Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Wednesday he will turn his attention to groups that have proliferated since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
Federal law now allows non-profits classified as “social welfare organizations” to spend unlimited money on political campaigns, although it’s not supposed to be their primary activity.
"People are using the not-for-profit status to actually do--not charitable activities--but politics," Becerra says. "Folks are not only abusing the system, but taking advantage of taxpayers who have to essentially back-fill the money these not-for-profits don’t pay in taxes, because of their status."
Since Citizens United, tax-exempt non-profits have become a favored vehicle for some name brands in politics. The Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, for instance, spent $14 million in the 2016 election, while retaining tax-exempt status, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The center calculates non-profit groups totalled almost $200 million of expenditures in the election.
It’s not clear exactly how Becerra could challenge these groups. The IRS determines tax-exempt status, although the California Attorney General can prosecute charities for fraudulent fundraising and misusing donations.
Additionally, most of the top non-profit political spenders in 2016 were conservative organizations, and an attempt by California's Democratic attorney general to crack down on them could be politically fraught.
In 2013, a top official at the IRS resigned after the agency's audits of tax-exempt status predominantly targeted conservative groups.
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