FAIR Files Formal Exhaustive Complaint with the IRS: SPLC Violated Its Tax Exempt Status Repeatedly
Any honest examination of this record can only lead to the conclusion that the SPLC was engaged in on-going prohibited political activity.
—Dan Stein, President of FAIR
(April 5, 2017 - Washington, D.C.) - According to a formal legal complaint filed today with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) openly and repeatedly violated its non-profit tax status nearly 50 times during the 2016 presidential election cycle, participating in communication activities prohibited by the IRS in a “flagrant, continued and intentional campaign” targeting then-Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and other Republican candidates. The complaint was filed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) through its legal affiliate the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI). Copies are available here.
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. 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.
“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,” alleges FAIR President Dan Stein. “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,” he said.
Charitable and Educational Organization Tax Status
Stein noted the SPLC used its website and homepage to overtly try to directly discredit Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, alleging in instance after instance that Trump was unworthy of voter support. The SPLC used its tried and true formula of opinion-based smears and innuendos – tactics that it claims shield it from liability suits – to engage in blatant political activity masquerading as “teaching tolerance.” The complaint reiterates that “smear[ing] by association” is a “primary technique” of the SPLC and, in this case, one clearly and obviously intended to sway public opinion against candidate Trump and other campaigns.
SPLC Repeatedly Violates IRS Rules, Alleges FAIR
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[s] an individual or the public to form an independent opinion or conclusion.” 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.”
The complaint also shows that the SPLC charged that Trump was “horrif[ying] Latinos, immigrants, and millions of others,” “inject[ing] real hate into the electoral contest” and “ratchet[ing] up” hatred against Muslims in particular. These and other communications documented in the complaint clearly lacked any educational and public-interest value and instead were part of an overt, ongoing, orchestrated effort to sway voters in their voting preferences.
“Clearly, the primary goal of the SPLC in 2016 was to ensure that Donald J. Trump was not elected president,” said Stein. “Any honest examination of this record can only lead to the conclusion that the SPLC was engaged in on-going prohibited political activity.”
Clear Examples of Electioneering
Just a few of the flagrant examples of electioneering that appeared in the “Hate Watch,” and misnamed “Intelligence Report” sections of SPLC’s website during the presidential primary and general campaign 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.”
“FAIR is filing this complaint,” says Stein, “not to defend any particular administration, but because the integrity of the not-for-profit rules need to be respected for all. The government should not be subsidizing this kind of ‘dark money’ political activity. We believe that a full IRS investigation of these activities is appropriate given the nature of the abuse and its duration. The violations are overt, and reflect the fact that the IRS has not been ensuring that the 501(c)(3) community is held to the appropriate standards.”
FAIR has also filed a similar complaint against the People for the American Way Foundation, which can be viewed here.