Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is The St. Louis Tea Party Breaking Election Law?

Jake Wagman wrote a story last week saying the St. Louis tea party was "straddling the line" in regards to election law with a recent billboard they paid for in Arnold asking "Who deserves to serve?" Here's what Wagman had to say:
The group is a 501c(4) non-profit organization, which means it has to be careful about political activity. So-called "social welfare" organizations can engage in political activity, so long as it is not their primary purpose.

They can also endorse federal candidates, so long as they communicate that endorsement only to their members and to the press.

They can't, however, communicate endorsements to the public at large -- which is why their billboard is so deliberately crafted.
He continues:
If the Tea Party billboard said simply, "Vote for Martin," or, "Don't Vote for Carnahan," they would risk losing their tax exempt status -- a status that subjects them to far less disclosure requirements than a traditional political action committee.

With a careful juxtaposition of photos, the Tea Party can effectively deliver its message, while at the same time claim compliance with IRS laws governing political activity.

But unless Carnahan supporters really do have their head down, it won't be hard to see through the intent of the billboard, which, if it sparks a legal challenge, could spell trouble for the Tea Party.
If that billboard is straddling the line, than other actions by the tea party appear to be quite plainly crossing it.

501c(4)s are not supposed to communicate their endorsements to the public at large. However, the tea party has an advertisement featuring the same image, seen here on the Reboot Congress website:

The advertisement very clearly states, "Paid for by the St. Louis Tea Party Coalition" at the bottom of the image:

If you click on the advertisement, you are redirected to this page, which states at the top, "Ed Martin Deserves to Serve Instead of Russ Carnahan," and goes on to say that they believe that Ed Martin "deserves your vote." In other words, the tea party has 501c(4) paid advertising that sends people directly to a page that endorses Ed Martin. If that's not communicating their endorsement to the public at large, then I don't know what is!

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