In the 2010 midterms, Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network talked proudly of their political clout, spending millions across the country to buy TV ads to defeat Democrats and grabbing credit for helping Republicans retake the House.
But now the two groups and others like them are changing their tune, saying that intervening in political campaigns really isn’t their primary mission.
Why the backtracking? Both groups now are under pressure to spend more noncampaign dollars than campaign dollars or risk running afoul of Internal Revenue Service rules that limit certain types of political activity.
The new GOP spending, which will be backed by millions more from anonymous donors, represents Round Two in the rise of the Republican outside groups seeking a permanent presence on the political scene.
It’s the inevitable byproduct of the way the groups organized under the tax code, but critics say it points out a loophole in how the government regulates campaign finance. Democrats and reform groups already have filed seven complaints against Crossroads GPS and other like-minded groups.
In order to keep their donors secret, Crossroads GPS — which was founded with help from Bush advisers Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie — and American Action Network classified themselves as 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups rather than political organizations.
That means both groups must be able to show to the IRS in a year’s time that influencing federal elections isn’t their “primary activity.”
Both groups say they’ll have no trouble meeting the IRS threshold. American Action Network, for instance, is planning a forum for next week on eliminating waste in the health care system. Crossroads GPS is already buying print ads, urging Congress to keep the Bush tax cuts in place — a classic issue ad venue and message, which doesn’t mention members of Congress by name.