A nonprofit organization in North Carolina funded by progressive mega-donor George Soros has been linked to a partisan strategy memo aimed at derailing the state Republican leadership’s legislative agenda, throwing light on the shadowy network of liberal groups that operate in the state.
The memo surfaced as part of a set of leaked documents that also contained liberal talking points and polling data. Stephanie Bass, the communications director for the liberal nonprofit group Blueprint NC, allegedly emailed out the documents.
Bass called the documents "CONFIDENTIAL" in her email and asked recipients to share them "with your boards and appropriate staff but not the whole world."
Blueprint NC coordinates with other liberal nonprofits in North Carolina. The Soros-financed Open Society Institute was the third-largest donor to the group in 2011, according to tax forms. Soros has been linked with other shadowy liberal financing operations, most notably the Democracy Alliance.
The strategy memo proposes that liberal groups work closely with liberal state legislators on unspecified bills and strategy and try to exploit tensions between various Republican leaders.
The memo also proposes specific opposition measures the group can take against Republican leaders. One proposal is to send a video crew to follow Republican state leaders’ "every move."
Another is to send operatives to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s public events in order to pose "audience questions at any town hall." The memo contains both a two-year and ten-year vision for the progressive groups.
The other documents are similarly partisan, including messaging points dated Feb. 12, 2013, and polling data from the end of January to the beginning of February that specifically target McCrory.
The executive director for Blueprint NC, Sean Kosofsky, denied to the local media that Blueprint actually sent the strategy memo. But he did not deny that the rest of the documents came from Blueprint NC.
Kosofsky also said the group received the strategy memo in a December meeting with more than 50 other liberal activist nonprofits.
Bass did not return multiple requests for comment.
Kosofsky, however, pointed to a Raleigh News Observer article reporting that another organization, America Votes, had taken credit for authoring the memo. He would not offer any further comments.
Jessica Laurenz, America Votes North Carolina director, admitted to writing the memo and distributing it at the December meeting. She told the Observer that the other organizations present did not endorse her proposals.
Laurenz did not return requests for clarification about the nature of the meeting, its attendees, and the role the memo played in it.
Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, noted some oddities with Blueprint NC’s situation.
"When 501(c)(3)s lobby, they’re supposed to be focusing on specific issues," he said.
"For me, the red flag is that there are no specific issues" in the memo, Painter said. He noted that a 501(c)(3) should not be trying to make a partisan leader look bad so he or she loses the next election.
"It all gets at, what is the intent? … What are they doing this for? Why are they circulating this memo?" Painter said.
Kosofsky did not seek to distance himself from the memo’s contents in comments to a local television station despite denying that the strategy memo originated with Blueprint.
"The meeting in December was of over 50 organizations," he wrote in an email to the station. "People bring their own idea. I am not going to claim or distance myself from things without greater context. … I am not going to cherry pick ideas from that draft plan and say which ones we approve of or disapprove of." He then attacked the policies of the governor and argued that nonprofit organizations should "advocate strongly."
Blueprint NC’s website notes that it is organized as a 501(c)(3) organization under the U.S. tax code, meaning donations to the organization are tax deductible.
"Blueprint NC and the members of the coalition are strictly prohibited from participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office," the website states.
"All Blueprint activities will be strictly non-partisan," it continues.
The group’s filed incorporation document broadens the list of activities in which it will not engage:
"No substantial part of the activities of the corporation shall be the carrying on of propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation."
Blueprint is listed as the North Carolina network partner for another liberal nonprofit activist group, State Voices. An individual with a State Voices email address, Paul Meade, is listed as one of the recipients of Bass’s original email. Meade did not return a request for comment.
State Voices is another nonprofit dedicated to nonpartisan activities. Its website declares, "WE’RE FOCUSED ON NONPARTISAN CIVIC ENGAGEMENT."
The group further explains that it is a network "comprised of state tables—networks of grassroots organizations in the states that come together to plan their nonpartisan civic engagement work, support each other, and share ideas, tools, and resources." It claims to have 22 state tables connecting more than 600 organizations.
State Voices refused to provide a complete version of its Form 990, which includes its donor list, upon a request by a Free Beacon reporter. The IRS requires every nonprofit organization to provide its annual tax return forms available "for public inspection" on the same business day as the request unless the request places an unusual burden upon the organization.
Like Blueprint NC, State Voices is classified as a 501(c)(3) group, a classification that comes with certain restrictions on its political activities. It is unclear whether the email and memo constitute prohibited activity on the part of Blueprint NC.
"The rule is that a 501(c)(3) cannot intervene in any campaign for an elected office," said Arthur Rieman, an attorney at the Law Firm for Non-Profits. He emphasized that the law covers intervention in campaigns, and organizations are free to oppose politicians once they are in office and no longer campaigning.
He did note some constraints on their efforts. Nonprofit organizations may not claim to train people for elected office and then only train individuals from one party, and they may not seek to embarrass candidates at non-campaign events.
There is also "a prohibition against propaganda, which is not terribly well defined," Rieman said.