Times Again Tries to Attract IRS Attention to Conservative Nonprofit

Climate Wire, an activist environmental journalism outlet that supplies content for the Times website, has the standard issue pro-regulation, anti-free-market bias one would expect.

Conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity, funded by the liberal villains the Koch brothers, is a juicy target for liberals of all stripes, and on Wednesday Climate Wire's Evan Lehmann dutifully filed 'As Anti-Climate Group's Activities Rise, So Do Questions About Its Secret Finances.'

It's only the latest story to appear under Times auspices that all but begs the IRS to start snooping around conservative nonprofit groups the paper disapproves of. And what is this story doing on "Climate Wire" in the first place? Lehmann devotes a single sentence to AFP's opposition to a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide, and Americans for Prosperity fights for limited government on many fronts, not just environmental issues.

The conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity unleashed a volley of ads aimed at Democrats in last year's midterm elections, but it recently reported to the IRS that it was not active in political campaign activities.

That's raising questions from some legal experts about how the group is using its growing cash flow from secret donors, and whether the organization is accurately reporting its election efforts to the IRS. Several experts say that AFP's message to the tax agency is wrong. AFP disagrees with them.

The questions arise as advocacy groups on both sides of the political divide have become prominent in elections following the Supreme Court's decision last year allowing the groups to spend unlimited amounts of money, often from corporate or union supporters, on campaign activities. These nonprofits spent $114.4 million on messaging in last year's election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. They spent zero in 2006.

Americans for Prosperity told the IRS in a tax form filed eight weeks ago that it does not engage in political activity, an assertion that frees it from filing any information with the tax agency about election-related expenditures. This comes after the group disclosed spending $1.3 million on dozens of radio spots and several television ads with the Federal Election Commission.

Lehmann found 'legal experts' to claim AFP is in error.

This confusingly written section seems to lump AFP's fund-raising with that of liberal environmental groups. Does that mean these groups political machinations will also get third-degree treatment from the Times? Lehmann doesn't follow up.

The tax Section 501(c)(4) has traditionally been occupied with the likes of neighborhood groups, Lions Clubs and medical organizations.

Some of the biggest outfits with the tax-exempt status include Delta Dental of California, Blue Care Network of Michigan and the Prairie Meadows Race Track & Casino in Iowa. Together, they raised more than $8.9 billion in 2009, according to data compiled by the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute.

Many of these organizations engage in general issue advocacy, most of which is nonpartisan and uncontroversial. Others don't.

Joining Americans for Prosperity in this list of nonprofits are several environmental groups. In 2009, when AFP raised $16.3 million, Sierra Club raised $82.5 million, Greenpeace raised $26 million and Environmental Defense Action Fund raised $19.5 million.

Hmm. Could this be why Climate Wire is taking an interest in IRS policy?

It's unclear if companies like Koch Industries, run by climate policy opponents Charles and David Koch, helped AFP reach its 2010 funding levels. A company spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment. David Koch is the board chairman of AFP's foundation, and Richard Fink, a longtime Koch executive and Washington operative, is a director. Both are uncompensated.

Lehmann last made Times Watch for his August 12 story hammering the field of G.O.P. presidential candidates as opponents of left-wing 'cap and trade' legislation aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, while assuming as fact the science of 'climate change.'