The Anti-ALEC Rogue's Gallery

Lawyer who filed complaint has ties to multiple anti-ALEC groups

Marcus Owens / AP
October 10, 2012

The lawyer who filed an IRS whistleblower complaint against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on behalf of a shadowy organization known as "Clergy Voice" has ties to Common Cause, the liberal government watchdog group and renowned ALEC foe.

Marcus Owens, former director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS from 1990 to 2000, filed a whistleblower complaint in July against ALEC, alleging the group was violating IRS tax law.

"ALEC has deliberately and repeatedly failed to comply with some of the most fundamental federal tax requirements applicable to public charities," Owens wrote in his complaint against the influential free-market group. "The information in this submission also suggests, quite strongly, that the conduct of ALEC and certain of its representatives violates other civil and criminal tax laws and may violate other federal and state criminal statutes as well."

As reported by the Free Beacon, the "grassroots" movement against ALEC is a well-coordinated campaign orchestrated by well-funded and often secretive progressive groups.

Owens filed the IRS complaint on behalf of Clergy Voice, which purports to be a group of left-wing Christian clergy members in Ohio. However, the group is not incorporated in Ohio, nor does it appear in any Guidestar search for nonprofit organizations.

Additionally, Clergy Voice’s website domain expired on Oct. 7 and has yet to be renewed. Before it went down, the sparse website contained no contact information for the group.

Prior to taking on ALEC, Clergy Voice filed IRS complaints against conservative churches for alleged political activity.

Owens is connected to Common Cause, a supposedly nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog organization that also filed complaints against ALEC. As previously reported by the Free Beacon, Common Cause claims to be a centrist organization but takes money from leftwing organizations to attack outfits on the right.

Owens’ law firm, Caplin & Drysdale, boasts of representing Common Cause in a tax dispute with the IRS. Common Cause also cited Owens in a letter to the IRS asking the agency to investigate the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank tied to the libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch.

Caplin & Drysdale has donated more than $230,00 to political campaigns since 1990, with the vast majority of those contributions going toward Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"There was no coordination whatsoever," a Common Cause spokeswoman told the Free Beacon when asked about the relationship between Owens, Clergy Voice, and Common Cause.

Common Cause will be hosting a screening on Thursday of liberal journalist Bill Moyers’ latest anti-ALEC documentary. In addition to his journalism, Moyers runs a foundation that funnels money to many of the same groups that attack ALEC, such as the Center for Media and Democracy, which will join Common Cause president Bob Edgar for a roundtable discussion after the screening.

Owens, a well-regarded nonprofit tax lawyer, has also applied his talents as a paid expert witness for Muslim charities accused of funneling money to terrorist organizations.

Owens served as a paid expert witness in the criminal defense of Iranian-born Pirouz Sedaghaty, the former leader of Al-Haramain United States, who in 2010 was convicted by a federal jury in Eugene, Oregon, of "tax fraud and conspiracy to defraud the government by helping smuggle money out of the country through the foundation."

According to the FBI, the felonies were "related to the organization’s efforts to send nearly $150,000 to support religious extremist militants in Chechnya." A 2004 Treasury Department press release claimed a federal investigation showed "direct links" between Al-Haramain United States and Osama bin Laden.

Owens disclosed he was charging the defense the "reduced" rate of $300 per hour for his services. The Office of Federal Public Defender represented Sedaghaty.

Owens also served as a defense expert in United States v. Mubayyid, a Massachusetts case in which three individuals were convicted of knowingly misleading the IRS in its tax forms. This was the first known case in which the annual filing of a tax-exempt group was used to criminally prosecute individuals.

According to a May news report, the Mubayyid defendants attempted "to conceal that their nonprofit group Care International was ‘supporting and promoting Islamic holy war.’"

Owens did not return requests for comment.