An attorney in Michigan has filed a complaint about the tax status of the anti-LGBTQ+ extremist group Moms for Liberty. The complaint says that the group is not meeting the obligations of its 501(c)(4) non-profit status, which means that it should be acting as a social welfare organization.
Moms for Liberty is a national conservative organization that sprang up in the previous few years in order to protest against COVID-19 measures, “critical race theory” in schools – a term that the right uses to describe any instruction about the history of racism in the U.S. – and the acceptance of LGBTQ+ students. The group, which organizes largely through private Facebook groups, has been instrumental in building support on the right for measures to take rights away from trans kids.
“They are an unapologetically extreme organization that has built a long record of harassment.”
The complaint says that Moms for Liberty claims it’s a political education organization but that the group doesn’t actually engage in political education. Instead, it engages in political advocacy.
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“It would be a permissible educational purpose if there were advocating to remove gender discussions from classrooms and schools if there was a balanced presentation of benefits and drawbacks of using a person’s preferred pronouns, supporting LGBTQ youth, impacts on children of being ‘exposed’ to LGBTQ supportive environments,” the complaint reads. “There is not.”
The complaint also brings up the fact that people can only get into the group through private Facebook groups that are controlled by the national organization, saying that shows that it’s not engaging in public education about politics.
“The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office,” the complaint says. “However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.”
501(c)(4) groups are social welfare organizations that work in the general public interest and don’t get the tax benefits that 501(c)(3) groups – or charitable organizations – get. 501(c)(3) groups can’t advocate for political campaigns at all.
Social welfare organizations under 501(c)(4) are allowed to advocate for specific candidates, but it can’t be their primary activity, according to the IRS. Associate professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh Phillip Hackney told The Guardian that a group can get into “a damage area” if candidate advocacy makes up more than 25% of the group’s activities. If it makes up more than half of the group’s activities, that’s “a real danger zone” and threatens the group’s non-profit status.
Moms for Liberty has been instrumental in getting far-right cranks elected to local school boards in order to implement their agenda, and Hackney – who said that much of the complaint filed against Moms for Liberty shouldn’t concern the group – said that the complaint is correct in discussing just how much Moms for Liberty has been involved in electoral campaigns.
He said that an IRS investigation into Moms for Liberty would likely take years. If the group’s non-profit status is revoked, it probably wouldn’t owe back taxes and could reorganize as a private organization.
Moms for Liberty isn’t commenting on the matter.