-By Dan Froomkin & Paul Blumenthal
May 7, 2012- WASHINGTON — Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, the political ad-buying organization cofounded by Republican strategist Karl Rove in 2010, has officially submitted its first tax forms with the Internal Revenue Service, and as expected, the group is formally requesting that the IRS treat it as a nonprofit operating under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.
But that's a tricky proposition for a group that spends the vast majority of its money on ads decrying one political candidate or another.
The hitch is that the tax code says 501(c)(4) groups "must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare" — the promotion of which "does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office."
Rove depends on Crossroad GPS getting that 501(c)(4) status for one reason. Avowedly political groups, like Crossroads GPS’ sister organization, the American Crossroads Super PAC, have to disclose their donors; 501(c)(4) groups don't (although that could be changing).
In order to promise anonymity to donors giving tens of millions — sometimes $10 million at a time — Rove and his colleagues called Crossroads GPS a “policy and grassroots advocacy” organization.
The group insists that most of the ads the organization produces comprise "issue advocacy" rather than political campaign activity. It argues that since less than 50 percent of its budget goes to what it terms “direct” political spending, the group qualifies as being "primarily" a social welfare group.
The big question the IRS will have to address, therefore, is whether the ads that Crossroads GPS and similar groups call "issue advocacy" ads are, in fact, "on behalf or in opposition to any candidate for public office."