IRS Asked To Probe Tax-Exempt GOP-Allied Group

American Crossroads is the big new player this election season. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, the conservative group is tapping donors it need not disclose and making massive media buys on behalf of Republican candidates. On Tuesday, it announced $4.3 million in spending for GOP Senate candidates. Meanwhile, groups in favor of disclosure filed a complaint at the IRS against American Crossroads on Tuesday.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

One of the biggest of the big-spending special interest groups in this year's midterms is launching another $4 million worth of attack ads today. NPR's Peter Overby reports that critics of campaign spending are now asking the IRS to investigate the group because it's keeping most of its donors secret.

PETER OVERBY: The group is American Crossroads, founded by two former Republican party chairmen and GOP strategist Karl Rove. It's one of many well-financed, pro-Republican groups that are rolling over badly funded special interest groups on the left this election season - so many conservative groups, in fact, that at American Crossroads, Jonathan Collegio says they're taking care not to duplicate each other's work.

Mr. JONATHAN COLLEGIO (American Crossroads): For example, if the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is in a state, we don't necessarily want to be advertising on top of their buy. So we're careful to monitor the ad buys of these other groups. It's all publicly available information.

OVERBY: The new ad buys bring American Crossroads spending to $18 million. All of the new ads take aim at Democratic Senate candidates.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Man #1: Michael Bennett should work for us, not Wall Street.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Man #2: Charlie Crist has flip-flopped.

Unidentified Man #3: Jack Conway sure lives up to his name.

Unidentified Man #4: Illinois can't afford any more Alexi.

OVERBY: And something else to note: Out of these four ads, all but the first one are funded anonymously. American Crossroads is a political committee, and so it has to disclose its donors. But Crossroads GPS - its spin-off group - is a tax-exempt educational organization, and the tax code says its donors can remain secret.

Fred Wertheimer is head of the watchdog organization Democracy 21. He says the goal of Crossroads GPS is not education.

Mr. FRED WERTHEIMER (Democracy 21): Everyone in the world knows that this organization was created to influence the 2010 congressional races.

OVERBY: And today, Wertheimer asked the IRS to investigate the groups for allegedly violating the tax code. It's nothing new, using tax-exempt groups to hide political donors. But Wertheimer says this year's flood of money has made the problem more urgent, now that the Supreme Court has allowed corporations and unions to put money into the sharpest kinds of attack ads. Collegio dismisses the criticism.

Mr. COLLEGIO: So what we're seeing is a lot of selective outrage.

OVERBY: If the IRS takes up the case, it won't have any effect on this election. But everyone expects this year's spending to be dwarfed by the 2012 campaign.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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