AUSTIN — A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service seeking to revoke the tax-exempt status of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.
The Accountability Campaign, which calls itself a watchdog for “malfeasance in public life,” said the Austin-based foundation abused its nonprofit status to engage in “brazenly” political activism.
The Accountability Campaign said in its filing that the foundation, which has grown to become Austin’s largest think tank, invited Republican candidates such as Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake to a donation drive near Austin in late September. engaged in impermissible political campaigning Monday.
The Washington-based group noted that in last year’s midterm elections, none of the invited speakers’ Democratic opponents were invited to the 2022 Victory Summit.
In response to the complaint, the foundation’s Brian Phillips offered just six words.
“This is stupid. Really, really stupid,” Phillips, the think tank’s chief communications officer, said in an email.
The IRS website states that the IRS expressly prohibits nonprofits from “directly or indirectly engaging in or interfering with any political activity on behalf of (or against) any candidate for elected office.”
Violations may result in the revocation or denial of an organization’s tax-exempt status.
Michelle Kuppersmith, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, said the group relies on publicly available information and videos on various sites, including Facebook and YouTube.
“They didn’t even try to hide it,” Kuppersmith said.
The 2022 Victory Summit is being held Sept. 22-24 at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines in Cedar Creek, about 30 minutes east of Austin, and is billed as a political fundraising opportunity.
At least five of the speakers were Republican candidates, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, and State Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston and Lake.
Foundation CEO Greg Sindelar moderated the conversation with Lake. At one point, Lake seemed apprehensive about talking about her gubernatorial run against Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
“I know I shouldn’t get into too much politics here,” Lake said.
Syndra interjected, “Oh, not bad.”
The complaint alleges that the foundation used social media, traditional news outlets “and other channels” to engage in illegal political activities.
During the 2022 Victory Summit, Carol M. Swain, the Foundation’s Nashville-based Distinguished Fellow in Constitutional Studies, tweets “Ms. Lake’s endorsement,” the complaint states.
“I am delighted and honored to meet future Governor Carrie Lake #Arizona. Cary has what America needs,” Swain wrote.
“TPPF shared a variety of other communications that crossed the threshold from issue advocacy to political campaign interference in the immediate run-up to the election,” the Accountability Campaign’s complaint said.
It cites a Facebook post from Election Day, Nov. 8, urging people to vote and “listing the many thorny issues Republicans will use to differentiate candidates in the 2022 election cycle, including border security and immigration, currency inflation, the electoral process, and the school curriculum.”
Campaign for Accountability noted that on Oct. 26, Chuck DeVore, the foundation’s chief national advocacy officer, published an opinion piece on Fox News’ website titled “Democrats on Crime and Midterms.” Election softening gives Americans a chance to choose safety.”
The article, which was cross-posted on the foundation’s website, expressed the Republican administration’s endorsement. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma and Bill Lee of Tennessee said they “funded the police.” That stands in stark contrast to 2020 cuts to police budgets in some major Democratic-controlled cities, DeVore wrote. The Accountability Campaign noted that both Stitt and Lee were running for re-election last year and that DeVore’s comments were “released close to the election.”