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A Challenge to Americans Elect to Comply With Tax Laws and Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws

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Americans Elect is an organization whose stated goal is "to nominate a presidential ticket that answers directly to voters -- not the political system."

To accomplish this goal, Americans Elect already has qualified on a number of state ballots as a political party in order to run a candidate for president in 2012 who will be nominated by citizens using the Internet.

An article published by the Associated Press states about Americans Elect, "The group, whose backers include both Republicans and Democrats anxious to open up the political process, has raised $22 million so far and secured ballot slots in Florida, Alaska, Nevada, Kansas, Arizona and Michigan. It has submitted signatures for certification in California, Utah and Hawaii."

At the same time, Americans Elect claims to be a "social welfare" organization eligible for status as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization. Such groups do not have to disclose their donors.

However, a political party is not entitled to be treated as a "social welfare" organization under federal tax laws and is required to disclose its donors. Period. The idea that a political party -- whose whole purpose is to nominate and elect candidates for office -- can also be a "social welfare" organization for tax purposes is an oxymoron.

Whatever one thinks about the goals of Americans Elect, the organizations should not be misusing the tax laws or circumventing the campaign finance disclosure laws.

Americans Elect should be registered as a section 527 "political organization" under the tax laws, which would require it to disclose its donors.

Americans Elect was registered as a federal political committee until last October, when it switched and claimed it was a "social welfare" organization under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. The reason for the switch appears quite clear: to keep secret from the American people the donors supporting its political activities.

Americans Elect correctly states on its website that "Americans are tired of politics as usual."

However, attempting to claim that a "political organization" is a "social welfare" organization for the apparent purpose of keeping secret from the American people the donors financing its political activities is classic "politics as usual."

Democracy 21 strongly urges Americans Elect to withdraw its request for 501(c)(4) tax status and to disclose its donors as required by section 527 of the tax code and by the disclosure rules that apply to federal political committees.

On September 28, 2011, Democracy 21, joined by the Campaign Legal Center, sent a letter to the IRS challenging the claims for 501(c)(4) tax exempt status by Americans Elect and three other organizations.

The letter states, "[W]ith regard to Americans Elect, the sole thrust of the organization is to obtain ballot access to use to nominate candidates for president and vice president. The organization is qualifying on ballots as a political party. These activities are per se campaign activities in connection with an election."

Democracy 21 believes this is an open and shut case and the IRS has no other option than to deny or revoke section 501(c)(4) tax exempt status for Americans Elect.

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