Politics

Southern Poverty Law Center Faces Federal Tax Complaint

Immigration reform group seeks to strip left-leaning SPLC of valued nonprofit status

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a longtime liberal anti-racism group, will face a federal complaint Wednesday from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The complaint will allege that the organization openly and repeatedly violated its nonprofit tax status nearly 50 times during the 2016 presidential election.

The complaint to the Treasury Department, provided first to LifeZette on Tuesday, accuses the center of participating in communication activities prohibited by the IRS in a “flagrant, continued, and intentional campaign” targeting then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and other Republican candidates.

“The Southern Poverty Law Center publicly engaged in deep, deliberate, and unlawful participation during the 2016 presidential election cycle, flagrantly violating its nonprofit tax status.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in 1971 and is based in Montgomery, Alabama. It is a nonprofit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) corporation. That charitable status allows the center to take certain tax exemptions, but certain types of political behavior could jeopardize that status.

Once an aggressive legal organization that took down racist laws and sued racist organizations, the Southern Poverty Law Center saw less opportunity as racism waned through the decades. And it had its own problems.

By 1994, the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser published an eight-part series that reported the center had few if any African-Americans as managerial employees, and that the center exaggerated the threats from racist groups to raise money.

Critics of the Southern Poverty Law Center charge the center has money on its mind and that it raises the specter of hate for financial purposes. Critics say it has become a partisan direct-mail operation, asking people for cash using incendiary accusations against some conservative-leaning organizations.

The center regularly attacks FAIR as being an “anti-immigrant hate group.”

Related: Southern Poverty Law Center Turns Leftist Bully

The complaint will be filed Wednesday morning by FAIR through its legal affiliate, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, according to FAIR officials.

FAIR officials told LifeZette on Tuesday that it will outline that the center engaged in “electioneering — taking positions in favor of, or against, any active candidate for public office.”

“The SPLC went way over the line in this last election,” said Dan Stein, FAIR’s president. “It publicly engaged in deep, deliberate, and unlawful participation during the 2016 presidential election cycle, flagrantly violating its nonprofit tax status. The IRS should investigate all of these instances and take appropriate steps to either sanction and fine the SPLC, or remove its tax-exempt status as a public charity.”

The center used its website and homepage to try to directly discredit Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, alleging in instance after instance that Trump was unworthy of voter support, according to Stein.

FAIR claims to be the country’s largest immigration-reform group, with more than 1.3 million members and supporters nationwide.

The complaint will also claim that the center charged Trump was “horrif[ying] Latinos, immigrants, and millions of others,” “inject[ing] real hate into the electoral contest,” and “ratchet[ing] up” hatred against Muslims.

The attacks on Trump “lacked any educational and public-interest value and instead were part of an overt, ongoing, orchestrated effort to sway voters in their voting preferences,” FAIR will allege.

Examples of electioneering, according to FAIR, include a July 6, 2016, article in the SPLC Intelligence Report. It featured a lengthy 13-page report, by SPLC staff member Stephen Piggott, titled, “Hate in the Race,” and subtitled, “A remarkable level of vitriol has characterized the Republican contest for president.” FAIR claims the article contained at least 41 distinct unlawful and highly negative statements attacking Trump or his campaign staff and supporters.

FAIR also cites a May 11, 2016, Hatewatch project article entitled, “Donald Trump’s Continuing White Nationalist Problem.” It linked Donald Trump to what the center calls “white nationalists.” FAIR says the term is not defined, but it was intended to discredit Trump as a presidential candidate.

Stein said FAIR is not to defend any particular administration, but because “the integrity of the not-for-profit rules need to be respected for all. The government should not be subsidizing this kind of ‘dark money’ political activity.”

FAIR claims to be the country’s largest immigration-reform group, with more than 1.3 million members and supporters nationwide.

The Southern Poverty Law Center did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

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Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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