In total, ten article screenshots were attached to the post. The first image depicted a headline and byline, reading:
Tax status complaint filed against anti-LGBTQ+ Moms for Liberty
The group’s non-profit status might be in danger.
By Alex Bollinger Monday, July 31, 2023
A search of Reddit led to a similar July 29 2023 post to r/politics:
On that thread, the most upvoted comment challenged the titular characterization of Moms For Liberty as a “parents’ rights group”:
It’s not a “parents rights” group. That’s just the lie they tell everyone. It’s a Christian theocracy group. Their goal is to force Christian dogma down everyone’s throats using the power of big government. They don’t care about the rights of parents who don’t want their kids to be brainwashed by such dogma.
Another commenter speculated that questionable tax statuses are commonplace:
Virtually every Evangelical Church in the country is in violation of their tax exempt status. The IRS is letting maybe even helping Conservative Political groups hide behind Church or Charity designations.
Moms For Liberty was labeled as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in June 2023. The SPLC maintained an exhaustive entry for Moms For Liberty as part of its “Extremist Files,” a resource prefaced with a definition and examples:
Extremists in the U.S. come in many different forms – white nationalists, anti-LGBTQ zealots, racist skinheads, neo-Confederates and more.
The Extremist Files database contains profiles of various prominent extremists and extremist organizations. It also examines the histories and core beliefs – or ideologies – of the most common types of extremist movements.
Not all extremist groups within these files are SPLC-designated “hate groups.” All SPLC-designated hate groups can be viewed on the Hate Map, by state or by ideology.
The Moms for Liberty entry first summarized the group, its origin, and why it was classified as an extremist group by the SPLC:
Moms for Liberty is a far-right organization that engages in anti-student inclusion activities and self-identifies as part of the modern parental rights movement. The group grew out of opposition to public health regulations for COVID-19, opposes LGBTQ+ and racially inclusive school curriculum, and has advocated books bans.
Moms for Liberty is an antigovernment organization founded in 2021 by former Florida school board members, Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich. Current Sarasota County, Florida school board member, Bridget Ziegler, was also a co-founder. She has since left the group, leaving Justice and Descovich at the helm.
Moms for Liberty and its nationwide chapters combat what they consider the “woke indoctrination” of children by advocating for book bans in school libraries and endorsing candidates for public office that align with the group’s views. They also use their multiple social media platforms to target teachers and school officials, advocate for the abolition of the Department of Education, advance a conspiracy propaganda, and spread hateful imagery and rhetoric against the LGBTQ community.
Wikipedia’s Moms for Liberty page made reference to the group’s tax status, in a section titled “Funding”:
The group is organized as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization, and is not legally required to disclose its donors.
One of two citations in that sentence linked to a June 12 2023 Associated Press article, “Moms for Liberty rises as power player in GOP politics after attacking schools over gender, race”:
And though the group [Moms for Liberty] is a 501(c)4 nonprofit that doesn’t have to disclose its donors, there are other glimpses of how powerful Republicans have helped fuel its rise.
Wikipedia also hyperlinked part of the “a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization,” linking to the “501(c)(4)” subsection of its “501(c) organization” entry. That second explained:
See also: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
A 501(c)(4) organization is a social welfare organization, such as a civic organization or a neighborhood association. An organization is considered by the IRS to be operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare if it is primarily engaged in promoting the common good and general welfare of the people of the community. Net earnings must be exclusively used for charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.
According to The Washington Post, 501(c)(4) organizations:
… are allowed to participate in politics, so long as politics do not become their primary focus. What that means in practice is that they must spend less than 50 percent of their money on politics. So long as they don’t run afoul of that threshold, the groups can influence elections, which they typically do through advertising.
The Imgur post linked to (and shared a title with) a July 31 2023 article by LGBTQNation.com, reporting:
An attorney in Michigan has filed a complaint about the tax status of the anti-LGBTQ+ extremist group Moms for Liberty. The complaint says that the group is not meeting the obligations of its 501(c)(4) non-profit status, which means that it should be acting as a social welfare organization.
The complaint says that Moms for Liberty claims it’s a political education organization but that the group doesn’t actually engage in political education. Instead, it engages in political advocacy.
“It would be a permissible educational purpose if there were advocating to remove gender discussions from classrooms and schools if there was a balanced presentation of benefits and drawbacks of using a person’s preferred pronouns, supporting LGBTQ youth, impacts on children of being ‘exposed’ to LGBTQ supportive environments,” the complaint reads. “There is not.”
On r/politics, the post’s submitter linked to a July 29 2023 article by The Guardian. It began:
A Michigan attorney has confirmed she filed an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) complaint against Moms for Liberty, the parental rights group with positions against racially inclusive and LGBTQ+ education in schools. The complaint, which is private but was obtained by the Guardian, alleges that the rightwing organization is in violation of its 501(c)4 non-profit status.
Experts in tax law say an IRS investigation into the Moms for Liberty, named an extremist group by Southern Poverty Law Center, would take at least two years. If their non-profit status is revoked, it would most likely cause the group to re-characterize as a private organization, further decreasing transparency about how money is flowing into it.
Later in the piece, The Guardian quoted legal expert Phillip Hackney on the merits of the complaint filed in Michigan:
Many of the elements of the complaint – the issues raised about Moms for Liberty’s private memberships and websites and questions about it being a political educational organization – will not pass muster, Phillip Hackney, associate professor of law at University of Pittsburgh said, though Hackney said he does think the complaint is correct in bringing up the group’s intervention in political campaigns. 501(c)4 groups, the most common type of dark money organizations, are allowed to endorse candidates and participate in an unlimited amount of lobbying. Hackney warned the group’s campaigning and promoting candidates can theoretically get into “a damage area” if it exceeds 25% of their group’s activities.
If it stretches past that to 25 to 50% of the group’s activities, it reaches “a real danger zone”, he said. Once campaigning becomes more than half of what the group is participating in, they can lose their non-profit status. With continuing budget resolutions, Hackney said Congress has made it hard for the IRS to give clarity in this space.
Additionally, Hackey calls 501(c)4 groups “charitable-organizations lite”, formed exclusively for social welfare purposes with the goal of doing something broadly in the public interest. Social welfare is a hard-to-define term, he said; as a result, the organizations that don’t quite fit the standards for a charitable non-profit will instead go into the “trash bin” of a 501(c)4.
Several outlets covered the Michigan complaint about Moms For Liberty, including Salon.com. All coverage cited The Guardian as its source, and Salon.com noted that The Guardian had privately reviewed the eight-page complaint.
It appeared that the name of the Michigan attorney and the details of the complaint were intentionally redacted from all reporting. The story noted that representatives for Moms For Liberty declined comment “without seeing a copy of the complaint”:
A Michigan attorney confirmed this weekend that she’s filed a tax complaint against the rightwing parental rights group, Moms for Liberty, alleging that the organization is in violation of its 501(c)4 non-profit status. According to The Guardian, which gained access to the private complaint, “experts in tax law say an IRS investigation into the Moms for Liberty, named an extremist group by Southern Poverty Law Center, would take at least two years. If their non-profit status is revoked, it would most likely cause the group to re-characterize as a private organization, further decreasing transparency about how money is flowing into it.”
Per The Guardian’s report, Moms For Liberty did not comment on the matter directly, saying only that “they would be unable to respond to questions without seeing a copy of the complaint.”
In late July and early August 2023, posts about a complaint filed against Moms For Liberty in Michigan circulated on social media. All news articles about the complaint cited a July 29 2023 The Guardian article; that outlet reviewed the tax status related complaint privately and confirmed its authenticity with the attorney who filed it. It appeared that details of the complaint and the attorney who filed it were redacted deliberately, likely to prevent targeted harassment by Moms For Liberty.