“The IRS’s standards are hopelessly vague and complicated,” fumed Jim Bopp, a top GOP campaign finance lawyer who brought the landmark Citizens United to the Supreme Court. “They aren’t standards. They are un-standards when you’re figuring out what’s lawful or not.”
The tax provision in question — section 501(c) — allows groups such as AFP and the Karl Rove-conceived Crossroads GPS, to keep donors secret. But it requires them to spend more than half of their total cash on issue advocacy that is not expressly election-related.
That’s easy when your target is a sitting president, cabinet member or senator, because you can criticize them on issues — even when they’re on the ballot — and count it towards your so-called “primary purpose” of issue advocacy.
It’s harder, though, when the target hasn’t been in public office for many months, like Clinton, who stepped down as Secretary of State in early 2013 and hasn’t occupied an elected office since she left the Senate for the State Department in 2009. Compounding the ambiguity, conservative legal sources say, is an unclear Internal Revenue Service interpretation of the provision.