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California Bans Shadowy Group Behind Anti-Elon Musk Twitter Boycott

Elon Musk / Getty Images
• June 1, 2022 5:00 am

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A left-wing dark-money group targeting Elon Musk has been suspended from operating in California and several other states after it failed to file required details about its finances, according to records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

The North Fund, a nonprofit group that has been using the alias "Accountable Tech" to organize a corporate boycott against Musk's Twitter bid, is "not in good standing and is prohibited from engaging in conduct for which registration is required, including soliciting or disbursing charitable funds," according to a delinquency notice sent in January to the group by California attorney general Rob Bonta (D.). Bonta said the group must file required financial disclosure records to be reinstated.

The North Fund's charitable standing is also expired or revoked in 12 other states, according to government records. These states include Wisconsin, where the fund has been using the trade name "Opportunity Wisconsin" to run millions of dollars in attack ads against Sen. Ron Johnson (R.).

Legal experts said the North Fund could face fines and other penalties if it raises money in those jurisdictions. In California, delinquent groups "may not operate or solicit donations in California," according to the Office of the Attorney General.

"There are about 39 states that require charities, and, in some cases including Section 501(c)(4) funds like the North Fund, to register with the state before they could solicit or otherwise conduct activities in the state," Charles Watkins, a nonprofit attorney at Webster, Chamberlain, & Bean and former counsel for the Internal Revenue Service, told the Free Beacon. "So even if the North Fund wasn't actually doing anything in California, they couldn't even solicit people in California by mail or email, for example."

The suspension in California is notable for an organization that has a number of projects aimed at companies and legislators in the state. Under the name "Accountable Tech," which describes itself as a "small nonprofit taking on Big Tech companies," the North Fund has been pushing for stronger speech restrictions at Silicon Valley-based Facebook and Twitter, and it has also been lobbying the state legislature to pass a child online privacy bill.

Accountable Tech has also been urging companies to boycott Twitter if Musk succeeds in his takeover bid, arguing he would "further toxify our information ecosystem and be a direct threat to public safety." Musk has criticized some of the platform's speech restrictions, including its decision to remove former president Donald Trump and its suppression of the New York Post‘s reporting on Hunter Biden.

Accountable Tech claimed on its Twitter feed that its anti-Musk campaign was a boost to its fundraising and linked to a webpage where supporters can donate. It did not indicate that the North Fund—which is its actual name—could be restricted from taking money from donors in certain states, including the 12 with registration anomalies identified by the Free Beacon.

"Still amazed and grateful for the outpouring of support we've seen from our grassroots supporters, who fund our work to take on Big Tech and advocate for a healthy, safe, and sustainable information ecosystem," wrote Accountable Tech on May 6. "You can chip in to support our work here."

The suspensions could also raise new questions about the group's finances after the Free Beacon reported on the North Fund's secrecy over its operations and $66 million budget, which is funded almost entirely by undisclosed donors giving over $1 million. While the organization claims to be based at an address in Washington, D.C., it does not actually use that location.

The North Fund operates under at least eight trade names, including Opportunity Wisconsin—which bills itself as a "coalition of Wisconsin residents" that has poured $4 million into ads against Johnson—and Just Democracy, which claims to be a "grassroots racial justice" group lobbying for the Biden administration's legislative agenda.

Other trade names include "51 for 51," a group pushing for statehood for the heavily Democratic District of Columbia, and the "Voting Rights Lab Action," which advocates for voting policy reforms favorable to Democrats.

The North Fund was founded in 2018 and is led by a handful of Democratic operatives, including former Clinton aide Jim Gerstein.

The North Fund did not respond to a request for comment until after publication. The group told the Free Beacon on Thursday, June 2, that it is working to resolve its registration issues.

"The North Fund is a registered 501(c)(4) with the IRS and authorized to operate in all 50 states as a fiscal sponsor for various non-profit organizations," the organization said. "We are in the process of obtaining approval for charitable solicitation everywhere required."

Update June 2, 10:37 a.m.: This piece has been updated with comment from the North Fund.

Published under: California, Dark Money, Elon Musk, Twitter