Complaint: Liberal 'Hate Monitoring' Group Repeatedly Violated Tax Exempt Status During 2016 Elections

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center
Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center / Getty Images
April 5, 2017

An immigration reform group filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service today alleging that a liberal 'hate monitoring' organization violated their tax-exempt status on nearly 50 occasions throughout the 2016 elections.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the D.C.-based legal affiliate of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), filed the legal complaint with the IRS alleging that the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that monitors "activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists," engaged in prohibited activities during a "flagrant, continued and intentional campaign" against Donald Trump and other Republican candidates this past election cycle.

"The IRS grants a special '501(c)(3)' tax classification to certain 'charitable' and/or 'educational' organizations (both of which the SPLC purports to be) that operate within strict public service guidelines," FAIR said in a press release. "Under the regulations, however, activities such as promoting or opposing certain political candidates for public office are absolutely not permissible communications for these types of privileged organizations. In other words, no electioneering – taking positions in favor of, or against, any active candidate for public office."

Dan Stein, FAIR's president, said the SPLC used their website to openly try to discredit then-candidate Donald Trump by alleging on numerous occasions that Trump was not worthy of voter support. The group used "opinion-based smears and innuendos" to engage in "activity masquerading as 'teaching tolerance.'"

"According to IRS rules, organizations are not deemed educational, for instance, if their 'principal function is the mere presentation of unsupported opinion', if they 'fail to provide a factual foundation for the viewpoint or position being advocated' or they lack a 'full and fair exposition of the pertinent facts'" which "permit an individual or the public to form an independent opinion or conclusion,'" the release says. "Educational organizations must be organized and continuously operated for instructing the public on subjects useful to the individual and beneficial to the public. FAIR notes the SPLC, however, made numerous sweeping, opinion-based statements about the current president during his 2016 campaign, accusing him of being 'embraced by right-wing extremists,' 'helping drive mainstream interest to racist memes' and manufacturing a "climate of fear' which might 'ultimately lead to hate violence."

Examples of the activities that SPLC engaged in throughout the election cycle include:

On July 6, 2016, the SPLC Intelligence Report featured a lengthy thirteen-page "report" by SPLC staff member Stephen Piggott, titled, "Hate in the Race," and subtitled, "A remarkable level of vitriol has characterized the Republican contest for president." The article contained at least 41 distinct unlawful and highly negative statements attacking then-Republican Party candidate and nominee Donald Trump or his campaign staff and supporters, and fourteen similar distinct unlawful statements attacking former Republican Party candidate Ted Cruz.

On May 11, 2016, a Hatewatch project article titled, "Donald Trump's Continuing White Nationalist Problem," by SPLC staff member Stephen Piggott, linked Donald Trump to what the SPLC styles "white nationalists." The term is not defined, but it is intended to discredit Mr. Trump as a presidential candidate.

On May 6, 2016, after Donald Trump was proclaimed by the national media to be the presumptive Republican nominee, the Hatewatch project published an article by SPLC contract writer David Neiwert, titled, "Right-Wing Extremists Hail the Ascension of ‘Emperor Trump’ as GOP Nominee."

On October 2, 2015, the SPLC Hatewatch project published "How the Candidates, the Haters, and the Media Have Cooked Up a Perfect Storm of Islamophobia," by SPLC contract writer David Neiwert. The article mainly focused on Trump's comments and positions. According to the article, Trump has "demonstrated how the fires of bigotry . . . keep escalating."

Stein says the SPLC went well beyond what they are legally allowed to do.

"The SPLC went way over the line in this last election. It publicly engaged in deep, deliberate, and unlawful participation during the 2016 presidential election cycle, flagrantly violating its non-profit tax status," Stein alleges. "The IRS should investigate all of these instances, and take appropriate steps to either sanction and fine the SPLC, or remove its tax-exempt status as a public charity. We are alleging – via meticulously-detailed documented evidence – that it repeatedly engaged in widespread, illegal electioneering in 2015 and 2016."

Published under: Nonprofits