In the confidential document, Crossroads GPS acknowledged that it intended to influence elections. "Consistent with the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the organization may, in the future, develop and/or distribute independent political communications," it said. But, the group added, "[a]ny such activity will be limited in amount, and will not constitute the organization's primary purpose."
The group eventually reported over $70 million in election spending to the Federal Election Commission in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Most of that money went to opposing Democrats, and, as ProPublica points out, the group also announced it spent an additional $50 million on anti-Obama ads outside the window during which it was required to report spending to the FEC.
In the 2010 filing, the group also offered a breakdown of its planned activities, saying 50 percent of its efforts would go to "public education," 30 percent would go to "activity to influence legislation and policymaking," and 20 percent would go to "research." The document said that the group's public education efforts would, among other things, be conducted "through a wide variety of communications channels, including paid advertising," while the activity to influence legislation and policymaking would engage "citizens to participate in grassroots advocacy on pending legislative issues through paid advertising, mailings, e-mails, and web-based advocacy tools."
After reviewing the filing on behalf of ProPublica, Paul Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, said the statement "does not seem to align with what they actually did, which was to raise and spend hundreds of millions to influence candidate elections."
Crossroads GPS is organized as a 501(c)4 "social welfare" organization. As such, it is allowed to raise unlimited sums of money without disclosing its donors. Such groups have become popular vehicles for political spending in the last two federal election cycles.
But the IRS has not yet recognized Crossroads GPS as tax exempt, a fact which complicates ProPublica's obtaining the 2010 application:
"As far as we know, the Crossroads application is still pending, in which case it seems that either you obtained whatever document you have illegally, or that it has been approved," Jonathan Collegio, the group's spokesman, [told ProPublica] in an email.
The IRS sent Crossroads' application to ProPublica in response to a public-records request. The document sent to ProPublica didn't include an official IRS recognition letter, which is typically attached to applications of nonprofits that have been recognized. The IRS is only required to give out applications of groups recognized as tax-exempt.
In an email Thursday, an IRS spokeswoman said the agency had no record of an approved application for Crossroads GPS, meaning that the group's application was still in limbo.
"It has come to our attention that you are in receipt of application materials of organizations that have not been recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt," wrote the spokeswoman, Michelle Eldridge. She cited a law saying that publishing unauthorized returns or return information was a felony punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of up to five years, or both. The IRS would not comment further on the Crossroads application.
Richard Tofel, ProPublica's general manager, said in a statement that the organization believes the information it is publishing is "not barred by the statute cited by the IRS." But parts of the document were redacted to remove financial information.
You can read the document itself here.