Aug. 20, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Tea Party PAC Looks to Increase Role This Cycle

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Sal Russo, the veteran Republican operative behind the Tea Party Express, has decided to use multiple fundraising vehicles in the runup to the 2012 elections.

But the nonprofit's first move was a $500,000 TV advertising buy targeting President Barack Obama's jobs bill, which failed Tuesday night to pass the Senate. The 60-second spot, called "The Perry/Walker Way," compares Obama's proposal to the jobs agendas of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), a presidential contender.

And when asked what the nonprofit's next target would be, Russo left very little doubt that funds donated to the organization would be directed toward the 2012 presidential race.

"I don't know what stupid ideas this administration will come up with next, but I have no doubt they'll have one," he said.

Until now, right-leaning organizations held a near-monopoly on the use of nonprofit 501(c)(4) organizations, which emerged as powerful players during the last election cycle after a January 2010 Supreme Court decision rolled back limits on corporate and union spending in election campaigns.

Unlike their charitable 501(c)(3) counterparts, which are barred from political activity, and 527 political organizations, which have enhanced disclosure requirements, 501(c)(4) groups can shield donor identities and still participate in campaign activity so long as it's not the organization's primary purpose.

But the IRS has never explicitly defined the acceptable level of political involvement, prompting concerns among government watchdog groups that many of the organizations might have little else going on.

"There is this fiction that they are a lobbying outfit and not a political committee," said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, which wrote a letter in September asking the IRS to investigate the activities of nonprofits such as Crossroads. "As long as they can say it's not the primary activity and [the] IRS does nothing, they basically can define what they are."

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