CREW files complaints against Ohio dark money group
CONTACT: Jordan Libowitz
202-408-5565 | [email protected]
Washington—Freedom Vote, an Ohio-based dark money group, appears to have violated its tax-exempt status and federal campaign finance law by acting as a political group while claiming to be a “social welfare” organization and to have failed to report over $1 million in expenditures on political advertisements, according to complaints filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
In order to maintain its tax-exempt status and skirt campaign finance law, Freedom Vote undercounted its political expenditures, reporting only 48.8% of its activity in 2015-16 as campaign-related. When the omitted political advertisements are included, political activity actually accounts for about 80% of Freedom Vote’s expenditures. As a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, Freedom Vote is not required to disclose its donors but may not make politics it primary focus. Since the vast majority of Freedom Vote’s spending was for political activity, it violated its tax-exempt status and should be registered with the FEC as a political committee, which would mean it must disclose its donors.
“Freedom Vote claims to be a social welfare organization, so it does not have to disclose donors, but in fact it acts just like a political committee,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “Ohio voters deserve to know who is paying for the ads influencing their elections.”
Freedom Vote failed to disclose over $1 million dollars it spent on advertisements during the 2016 election cycle. The advertisements were unambiguously political, run in opposition to former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, then a candidate for the US Senate. After criticizing him for his “job-killing policies” and for losing 350,000 jobs while he was in office, the ad said “now Ted Strickland wants to bring his job-killing policies to Washington” while showing an image of the U.S. Capitol building, clearly a message advocating Strickland’s defeat.
“It’s hard to imagine a clearer example of a political expenditure than money spent running advertisements in a Senate race,” Bookbinder said. “This looks like a blatant case of a dark money group intentionally misrepresenting its activity to get around campaign finance law.”