April 17, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

States Target Politically Active Nonprofits

The groups receiving letters included Crossroads GPS, the conservative nonprofit organized by GOP operative Karl Rove and allied with the American Crossroads super PAC; the GOP-friendly American Action Network; and American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, the nonprofit arm of a pro-Democrat super PAC.

An American Bridge spokesman said the group has responded to Schneiderman, but he declined to elaborate on the interaction. Organizers with Crossroads GPS and American Action Network have said they are complying fully with tax and election laws.

“I think they want to discourage large-dollar donors from giving contributions to groups that are going to be active in policy or politics because they want to shut it down,” conservative election lawyer Jason Torchinsky said of the state efforts.

A partner with Holtzman Vogel Josefiak, Torchinsky has represented several groups defending their right to spend and speak without disclosing donors.

Indiana lawyer James Bopp Jr., who has also been on the vanguard of legal challenges to the campaign finance restrictions, concurred. Bopp said campaign finance laws require groups to disclose their donors only when their primary purpose is political activity.

“After Citizens United, they can’t prohibit groups from doing political activity,” Bopp said of officials seeking to curb groups. “So now what they’re using is disclosure as a weapon against advocacy groups, to try to quash their political speech.”

Groups under fire from state officials have often countersued. Both Montana and Maine have beaten back legal challenges to their campaign finance laws. Montana has engaged in a string of suits and countersuits with a conservative group known as American Tradition Partnership, involving both the constitutionality of the state’s campaign finance rules and the group’s compliance with state disclosure rules.

In Maine, the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices has gone to court to force disclosure by the National Organization for Marriage, which spent millions on a ballot initiative involving same-sex marriage.

In Idaho, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has gone to court to force a tax-exempt group known as Education Voters of Idaho Inc. to register and report as a political committee.

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