Defenders of Wildlife called out by GOP for attack ads

After spending more than $1.5 million this election cycle to unseat Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave as well as other ad campaigns against Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a group of GOP senators said The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund (DOW) is abusing its tax-exempt status as a nonprofit.

According to an article in the Fort Collins Coloradoan today, the group of GOP senators, including John Warner of Virginia, George Voinovich of Ohio, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, David Vitter of Louisiana, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Larry Craig of Idaho, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Christopher Bond of Missouri, said the DOW has abused its status by pushing a political agenda against Republican candidates, including Musgrave, Palin and New Mexico Senate candidate Steve Pearce and Alaska Rep. Don Young.

“This election season, Republicans are being hunted by wolves, and it appears that these wolves have hit the campaign trail with a targeted agenda,” according to a news release from the Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

As a registered 501c(4) nonprofit, The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund must, by federal law, spend less than 50 percent of its funding for political purposes. The GOP senators said the group has done little advocacy for environmental protection this election cycle and instead has attacked GOP candidates, including Musgrave, for things unrelated to the environment. During the election cycle, the group has attacked Musgrave for a coin collection her husband owns and legislation she co-sponsored to reduce taxes on, as well as other political smears that have been unrelated to environmental advocacy.

Responding to the Coloradoan on Tuesday, the DOW defended its political expenditures and said it has worked carefully to promote environmental protection with a majority of its resources, including spending close to $1 million on an Alaskan ballot initiative to protect wolves and bears. It has spent more than $1.5 million attacking Musgrave alone this year.

501(c)4 groups have become the preferred mode for unchecked political spending this election cycle, even surpassing the popularity of the now-infamous 527 groups that were so active in the 2004 election cycle. Named after the section of the tax code that regulates their activities, 501c(4)s are able to accept unlimited contributions for use in political campaigns, and generally don’t have to disclose their donors so long as the money it accepts from a donor is not entirely spent on politicking — a standard that is hard to prove.

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