Everyone in the know agrees that 501(c)(4)s are this year's 527s. David Corn called them the new mudslingers and Paul Kiel wonders which one will emerge as the successor to Swift Boat Vets. Last week, I posted here about two new ones, American Future Fund and Iowa Future Fund, being operated by Holtzman Vogel.
501(c)(4)s are supposed to be non-profit social welfare organizations as defined by the IRS. Key is the fact that donors can secretly contribute unlimited amounts of money. Campaigning is limited to adressing issues but that leaves a lot of leeway for abuse.
The story behind the Progressive Policy Council is an easy-to-follow textbook example of how a 501(c)(4) Republican front operates.
On October 30, 2006, Paul Kiel at the TPM Muckraker asked his readers for help in identifying the people behind the Progressive Policy Council's campaign mailer. The mailer compared the similiarities of the views held by Rick Santorum on certain social issues like gay marriage with those of Bob Casey and was meant to discourage Democrats from turning out to vote in the senate race.
Torchinsky and his bosses, Alex N. Vogel and his wife, Jill Holzman Vogel, are among the dirtiest of dirty Republican operatives. Along with Mark "Thor" Hearne, they operated the American Center For Voting Rights and the Free Enterprise Coalition through which they promoted the suppression of Democratic voters by disenfranchisment, redistricting and other hardball tactics.
(See Sourcewatch's entry for the Progressive Policy Council for more information and links.)
For quite awhile, Torchinsky was the only name linked to the Progessive Policy Council. At some point, however, the Virginia corporate registration was changed to include the names of the officers.
Surprise, surprise! All three officers are Republican consultants:
Devanney, based in Pennsylvania, previously worked on Bill Scranton's failed campaign for the governor nomination.
Snyder and Merritt are partners in a political consulting firm, Ikon Public Affairs. I was told that Ikon employs several former members of Rick Santorum's staff. A search of the Senate Office Public Records shows that Ikon has a number of clients in Pennsylvania.
It also appears that notorious Republican operative, Roger Stone, is or was an Ikon partner.
The Progressive Policy Council 990 tax return was not filed until November 2007, long after the 2006 election. The delay underscores another problem with 5019(c)(4)s, untimely information.
The Council reported $255k in revenue. $85k was paid to the officers and $117k was spent on postage and mailings which left $1k in the bank at the end of June 2007.
In June 2007, the Council was dissolved as a corporation.
The Progressive Policy Council does appear to have engaged in any activity other than sending out those campaign mailers. It was clearly an election day scam but it was legal. And that's the problem.
(Crossposted at TPM Cafe)