Leaked emails in which a left-wing nonprofit promotes events by the President Obama-aligned Organizing for Action and circulates Democratic Party talking points on the government shutdown may be a possible violation of rules governing tax-exempt status for such organizations, experts say.
A staffer at the Center for American Progress blasted out an email the night before the partial federal government shutdown that promoted events by an arm of the Democratic Party’s Senate leadership as well as Organizing for Action (OFA), the activist iteration of President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.
Matt Klapper, the policy director for Newark Democratic mayor Cory Booker’s U.S. Senate campaign, was among the recipients of the message.
Emma Shapiro, who sent the email, is the state communications organizer for the war room at ThinkProgress, the blog run by CAP’s 501(c)(4) Action Fund.
However, Shapiro is also listed as an employee in the communications department of CAP proper, which is a nonprofit classified under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code. She has two email addresses, one using CAP’s "americanprogress.org" domain and another using the Action Fund’s "americanprogressaction.org." She did not return multiple requests for comment.
Shapiro’s Sept. 30 email to Klapper used the CAP Action Fund email address, though her signature designated her an employee of CAP proper. It promoted research by the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, the research arm of the Senate Democrats.
Campaign finance attorney Jason Torchinsky said the leaked email could be a problem for CAP.
"It seems to me that there may be an issue with CAP/CAPAF here using a (c)(4) email address to send information to a Senate campaign staff person two weeks before an election using her (c)(3) signature," Torchinsky said in an email.
Shapiro’s signature also lists an email address that uses the domain of the group’s 501(c)(3) arm.
That is not mere semantics, Torchinsky said. It raises significant legal questions.
Groups organized under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code "are under an absolute prohibition from intervening in political campaigns and this email leads one to ask what else has been circulated or sent to the [Booker for] Senate campaign by the CAP (c)(3)," he said.
A CAP spokesman did not return requests for comment clarifying the nature of Shapiro’s employment.
Phil Kerpen, the president of American Commitment, a conservative group backing Republican Senate candidate Steve Lonegan, said Shapiro's email is possible evidence of coordination between CAP and the Booker campaign.
"We shouldn’t be surprised that a campaign so incompetent that they conduct their policy discussions on an open Google Group also takes its marching orders directly from the most radical liberal special interest groups and apparently cuts corners on legal compliance," Kerpen said in an email.
Shapiro’s email promoted 28 OFA events on the shutdown. The group, created in the wake of President Obama’s reelection to raise money by promising access to the president and promoting his legislative agenda, has also blamed congressional Republicans for the shutdown.
"Wanted to make sure everyone knew that DPCC has a state-by-state impacts of a shutdown," Shapiro wrote. "If you don’t have or want the one for your state, let me know and I will send."
The DPCC has promoted the Democratic line on Congress’s failure to pass a spending bill, calling it a "GOP shutdown."
ThinkProgress has also laid the blame for the shutdown squarely on Republicans. "House Republicans are responsible for" the budget crisis, wrote one blogger over the weekend in a post that included the phrase "Republican shutdown" in its headline.
CAP’s (c)(3) arm has also blamed the GOP for the shutdown, pinning responsibility on "the House of Representatives and their Republican majority," in the words of the group’s president, Neera Tanden.
Events by Fair Share, a left-wing activist group that has also targeted Republicans over the shutdown, were also promoted in Shapiro’s email.
One of the OFA events noted in Shapiro’s email took place at the Newark, N.J., Social Security office, according to the spreadsheet included in the email.
That is significant, according to Torchinsky, given that a high-ranking Booker staffer was apparently on Shapiro’s list of recipients.
The day after Shapiro sent her email, the Booker campaign began airing an ad tying Lonegan to the government shutdown.
The email was initially sent to Klapper’s Gmail address. He forwarded it to his Booker campaign email address, then forwarded that message to the rest of the policy team.
The email was revealed after the campaign unwittingly made nearly 400 internal email threads publicly available through an open Google group. The group is no longer publicly accessible.
Klapper did not return a request for comment.