Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer today indicated his group and the Campaign Legal Center would ask the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the new group Priorities USA, an independent organization that does not need to disclose its donors that will participate in the 2012 election.
Having called for an IRS investigation into the conservative independent group Crossroads GPS last October, Wertheimer said in a statement, Democracy 21 will call for a “similar investigation of whether Priorities USA is operating in violation of its section 501(c)(4) tax status because it has a primary purpose of participating in political campaigns in support of, or in opposition to, candidates for public office.”
Priorities USA is run by former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, the former chief of staff to then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
Last year, President Obama was very critical of groups such as Crossroads GPS, which former Bush political guru Karl Rove helped found, telling a Delaware crowd that anonymous donors to these independent groups “don't have the courage to stand up and disclose their identities. They could be insurance companies or Wall Street banks or even foreign-owned corporations. We will not know because there's no disclosure. But this isn't just a threat to the Democrats: It's a threat to our democracy.”
American Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio called the formation of these new Democratic independent groups evidence of President Obama’s “brazen hypocrisy” since according to Collegio — though there is no evidence of it — President Obama “encourage(ed) his own operatives to start groups exactly like the ones he demagogued last year.”
Sweeney today issued a statement saying that the new groups are part of “an effort to level the playing field. Americans deserve an honest debate about job creation, the economy, national security and education. That debate will never happen if only right wing extremists are engaged on the battlefield.”
Wertheimer today said the two independent groups founded by Sweeney and Burton “clearly have been formed to make expenditures in support of the re-election of President Obama in 2012” and thus should not be allowed to exist in the tax code as “social welfare groups” that don’t have to disclose donors.
Asked for comment today about the groups, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “We don’t control outside groups. These are not people working for the administration.”
You can read more about Priorities USA HERE.
UPDATE: You can also check out my colleague Rick Klein's interview with Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., on the subject. “I think whether you're a Republican-leaning group or a Democratic-leading group, you should be required to disclose. I think voters have a right to know who is spending their monies to try and influence their elections,” Van Hollen told Klein on "Top Line” today. “I think all groups, regardless of their political affiliation and who they're supporting and opposing, should provide the viewers, the voters, with information on who's paying for those ads,” he continued.
Also, former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said: “Democrats who mirror the right-wing tactics of Karl Rove and David Koch do our nation no favors. Our democracy is best served by rejecting the fundamentally corrupt strategy of embracing unlimited corporate influence.”
More on Van Hollen’s comments below: