Environmental League Did not Disclose Five Independent Expenditures in Local Elections
The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance (MassFiscal) today alerted the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) and the IRS of potentially unreported and illegal campaign expenditures made by the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM), a tax deductible 501(c)(3) organization. MassFiscal sent complaint letters to both OCPF and the IRS in reference to the unreported ads, which were delivered ahead of municipal races in Reading, Marblehead, and Hingham in the spring of 2021. A copy of the letters may be found here:
According to ELM’s Facebook Ad Library, on March 31, 2021 they began serving digital Facebook ads to voters that are considered independent expenditures, which are activities Super PACs make. These independent expenditures were listed as sponsored by “ELM Action Fund Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee,” yet were being delivered through ELM’s tax deductible 501(c)(3) non-profit Facebook page. There were five independent expenditures, to help elect five municipal candidates, with a potential total value of $5,296. The candidates that benefited were Jim Satterthwaite and Marlena Bita of Reading, Massachusetts, Laura Burnes of Hingham, Massachusetts and Christopher Hardy and Simon Frechette of Marblehead, Massachusetts. None of these advertisements were filed with the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance or municipal town clerks.
While Super PACs may spend an unlimited amount of money to elect or defeat candidates for office, ELM is a tax-deductible public charity organization that is strictly prohibited from doing so. In this case, the independent expenditures are being paid for by ELM Action Fund IE PAC, but being served to voters by ELM’s tax-deductible public charity, and not being reported to OCPF or to local municipal clerks, a violation of state campaign finance laws and IRS rules.
This is not the first time ELM has played fast and loose with the rules. In November of 2020, MassFiscal previously raised concerns related to ELM Action Fund IE PAC’s utilization of the non-profit ELM’s social media assets for campaign activities.
“Campaign finance and charitable IRS rules should be followed, even by ELM. When you have the assets of a charitable organization being used for such overt election activities, it essentially amounts to taxpayers subsidizing their election message. For these five municipal elections, none of the election expenses were disclosed. The rules exist for a reason and should be strictly followed by all,” said Paul Diego Craney, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.
“As we’ve noted before, while we are strong supporters of the right of free speech and fully support organizations using the IRS tax code to achieve maximum benefit to their members and missions, this case is AGAIN a clear violation of the rules. A line must be drawn at using a tax-deductible organization to serve undisclosed Super PAC ads on social media. We hope that OCPF will take action for their failure to report thousands in campaign spending and that the IRS will hold accountable their shameless intermingling of charitable and Super-PAC activities,” concluded Craney.