January 3, 2014
The most recent tax filings by Crossroads GPS, the top spending dark money nonprofit in the 2012 election, show that in addition to spending more than $74 million on political activity in 2012, Crossroads handed out more than $35 million in grants to other politically oriented tax-exempt organizations. It turns out one of the smaller grants, $125,000 to a group called Conscience Cause, is pretty interesting.
According to news accounts, Conscience Cause is an advocacy group formed in early 2012 to oppose federally mandated contraception coverage in the name of religious liberty and is organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code as a social welfare group. Prominent supporters include Mary Matalin, former Veteran Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.
Mr. Gillespie appears to be the thread connecting Crossroads and Conscience Cause. Ms. Matalin describes Conscience Cause as Mr. Gillespie’s “brain child.” The address for Conscience Cause listed on Crossroads’ tax form is also listed as Mr. Gillespie’s by the state of Virginia. In addition, Mr. Gillespie, together with Karl Rove, reportedly “dreamed up” Crossroads GPS. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Conscience Cause’s first tweet included a hash tag promoting Crossroads’ sister organization, super PAC American Crossroads.
So, what did Conscience Cause do with Crossroads’ money? It’s unclear. Unlike several of the other groups that received Crossroads grants, Conscience Cause didn’t report spending any money on the 2012 elections, and no tax filings from the group are available on Guidestar, ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer, or CitizenAudit. In March 2012, Ms. Matalin said Conscience Cause would focus on petitions as well as earned media and paid advertising. “It’ll have tactics that will resemble a campaign,” Ms. Matalin told the Daily Caller. The group created a petition about the so-called contraception mandate, and released voter guides for at least 18 Senate races. Though Conscience Cause claimed to be non-partisan, every single one of the guides on the Conscience Cause website supported Republican candidates.
For its part, Crossroads largely focused its campaign attacks on the economy and the broad outlines of the Affordable Care Act, but its message did overlap with that of Conscience Cause at times. In February 2012 – about a month before Conscience Cause was publicly launched – Crossroads spent $65,000 on radio ads in Missouri claiming Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) supported “forcing religious hospitals and charities to provide services that violate their beliefs.” Conscience Cause targeted Sen. McCaskill, too: One of its voter guides declared “the Obama administration mandated that religious employers must pay for abortion-inducing drugs” and pointed to her as supporting it. Crossroads also hit on the contraception mandate in a press release about tax rates for charitable contributions.
It’s unclear whether Conscience Cause still exists. Though the group’s Facebook page is active, its website’s homepage no longer works (see an archived version here) and its Twitter account hasn’t been updated since January 2013. If Conscience Cause does resume activity again before the 2014 elections or if Mr. Gillespie decides to start another narrowly tailored issue group, it’s worth looking at whether Crossroads is providing the money.