US tax regulators recognize two related dark money groups, even though they appear to have made misleading statements on their applications for tax-exempt status
The IRS has granted nonprofit status to America Is Not Stupid – a so-called dark money group best known for a 2012 election ad featuring a talking baby who compared the smell of his diaper with a Montana senator.
As ProPublica wrote in January, America Is Not Stupid and a related group, A Better America Now, applied for IRS recognition in the run-up to the 2012 election, swearing under penalty of perjury that they would not spend money on elections.
Then both groups went ahead and did exactly that, spending more than $125,000 on mailers and ads opposing Democratic candidates in Texas and Montana.
Despite these disclosures, records show, the IRS gave A Better America Now its stamp of approval as a social welfare nonprofit in April and recognized America Is Not Stupid in late June, decisions that elicited amazement among campaign finance watchdogs.
Marcus Owens, a nonprofit lawyer who ran the IRS Exempt Organizations division from 1990 to 2000, questioned whether a controversy that erupted earlier this year, over the agency subjecting certain conservative nonprofits to extra review, had damaged its ability to fulfill its regulatory functions.
“The oversight has collapsed,” Owens said. “The current people in Exempt Organizations have no tax law enforcement experience and no exempt organization experience in particular. And they’ve been charged with making this particular headache go away.”
Because of the government shutdown, the IRS could not be reached for comment. In the past, the IRS has not commented on stories about specific groups. Talking about individual taxpayers violates the law.
No one from either America Is Not Stupid or A Better America Now responded to emails and phone calls asking for comment.
In May, the IRS admitted that it had flagged the applications of Tea Party and related groups for extra review, dooming many to years of limbo. That admission turned into a firestorm, leading to the immediate resignation of the acting IRS commissioner and the eventual replacement of the top officials in the Exempt Organizations division. Senate and House committees started investigating. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration expanded its initial audit. And the Justice Department announced a criminal inquiry. (Later, records were released showing that the IRS was also flagging liberal groups with “progressive” in their names.)
Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in early 2010 opened the door to increased political spending by corporations and unions, nonprofits like America Is Not Stupid have taken on an expanding role in U.S. elections. That’s largely because they do not have to identify their donors, unlike super PACS, leading them to be dubbed “dark money” groups.
About 150 of these nonprofits spent more than $254 million in 2012 on ads, phone calls and mailings reported to the Federal Election Commission. Almost all the donors of that money have remained anonymous. Most of that money — more than 85 percent — was spent by conservative groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and research by ProPublica.
These groups are allowed to spend limited amounts to influence elections, as long as they can prove their primary purpose is “social welfare.” But ProPublica has shown how dozens of social welfare nonprofits have underreported their political spending, or spent money on elections despite telling the IRS they would not do so.
In its 2012 annual work plan, the IRS recognized the problem, announcing it would take a hard look at nonprofits and “serious allegations of impermissible political intervention.”
If the agency’s exchanges with America Is Not Stupid and A Better America Now are any indication, however, the augmented focus on nonprofits has been less than ferocious.
The IRS sent ProPublica the groups’ applications for recognition last November, even though they had not yet been recognized and the documents were therefore not supposed to be made public. We wrote stories about these and several other pending applications, bringing it to the IRS’ attention that these groups had pledged that they would not spend money on elections, yet did so.
According to IRS records, neither group ever amended its application to reflect its political spending.
In response to IRS questions about their applications, though, the groups acknowledged that they had spent small amounts on elections – a contradiction that apparently did not hobble their chances for recognition.
A month after receiving IRS recognition in April of this year, A Better America Now changed its story again. It filed its 2012 tax return and asserted – again, under penalty of perjury -- that it had spent no money to influence elections. ProPublica reported this in July.
The IRS told ProPublica that the 2012 tax return for America Is Not Stupid was “unavailable” as of last month. Renae Duncan, the group’s certified public accountant in Texas, said she would pass on an inquiry from ProPublica to Miguel A. Gutierrez, the group’s president, on Monday morning. He has not yet responded.
In replying this May to IRS questions on America Is Not Stupid’s application, Gutierrez provided several examples of the group’s activities as proof that it had a bona fide social welfare mission of improving the good of a community — the critical factor in maintaining tax-exempt status.
He said the group had created a website, www.NewsEagle360.com, and had authored articles “regarding how underserved communities or minority populations and economically disadvantaged small businesses may be affected by certain U.S. federal rules and regulations in the coming years.” There’s no sign of any such articles on the website or elsewhere, however. (On Monday, one of the website’s top stories was on “CoralActives: Breakthrough Acne Skin Care.”)
He told the IRS that the nonprofit conducted polls in Montana, Nevada and Texas, targeting heads of households with Hispanic surnames. But the only poll included in the response didn’t mention Latinos at all. Instead, it asked Montanans about which candidates they planned to vote for in the 2012 election.
The group’s president also said the group held events, including one in San Antonio to “openly discuss topics affecting the Hispanic population in the U.S., including, but not limited to, healthcare, the housing market, jobs and the economy, and various education issues.”
Gutierrez said the event was held on Oct. 26 — just before the 2012 election. The event was free for the first 3,000 people, and billed to the public as strictly entertainment, an evening featuring comedian Paul Rodriguez and the Leslie Lugo Band playing music “to dance into the night.”
But former Bush official Hector Barreto gave the keynote address, Gutierrez told the IRS. One detail America Is Not Stupid didn’t mention: Barreto also happened to be the co-chair of Juntos Con Romney, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Hispanic steering committee.
Nothing Gutierrez said in his May 24 response to the IRS seems to have raised any red flags with the IRS, however.
A month after receiving it, the IRS recognized America Is Not Stupid.
The scheme would invest over half its portfolio in debt and the remaining portion in equity. For the equity portfolio, it will invest in opportunities arising out of corporate actions
Edelweiss Mutual Fund (Edelweiss MF) plans to launch an open-ended hybrid scheme—Edelweiss Debt and Corporate Opportunities Fund. The scheme would invest in debt & money market instruments having average maturity of up to three years and would invest in equity arbitrage opportunities and corporate actions related opportunities to generate high returns. The scheme would invest over half its portfolio in debt and the remaining portion in equity. Edelweiss Absolute Return Fund is an equity-oriented scheme from Edelweiss MF which employs a similar equity investment strategy. The returns of this scheme have been considerably volatile and negative at times despite investing in arbitrage opportunities, as the scheme bets on the corporate actions of companies. Similarly, in the new scheme, the equity allocation which can go up to 50% of portfolio can bring additional risk. Surprisingly, according to the regulators product labelling guidelines, the scheme labels itself as ‘medium risk’.
According to the scheme information document, “The investment strategy (of the scheme) would be to predominantly invest in a diversified basket of debt & money market instruments having average maturity of up to 3 years. It will also opportunistically allocate some proportion of assets in equity & equity related instruments, primarily focused to benefit from equity derivatives and arbitrage strategies and will invest in opportunities arising out of corporate actions announced in stocks to generate high returns with moderate levels of risk and liquidity.”
Corporate actions are events that bring material change in the functions of a publicly listed company that can affect stakeholders, for good or bad. The term ‘corporate actions’ includes actions such as stock splits, dividends, mergers and acquisitions, rights issues, spin offs as also special situations arising out of corporate activities like initial public offering, follow-on public offering, buy back, delisting, open offers, bonus, offer-for-sale etc. The fund managers of the scheme will carefully analyse any such instances and participate in the same as such if according to their analysis they feel such actions would create value for the investors.
To moderate the risk, the new scheme will invest in arbitrage opportunities between spot and futures prices of exchange traded equities (for e.g. buying the basket of index constituents in the cash segment and selling the index futures, buying ADR/GDR and selling the corresponding stock future, etc). The scheme will also invest in low risk derivatives strategies. These strategies will involve any combination of cash, futures and options.
Below are the performances of equity oriented schemes of Edelweiss MF:
None of the schemes have a track record of more than five years and have failed to attract investors. None of the scheme have a corpus above Rs50 crore.
In terms of taxation, as the allocation to equity is less than 50%, the new scheme will not be treated as an equity scheme. The debt portion of the scheme would be managed by Rahul Totla who has four years of work experience and Mr Paul Parampreet will manage the equity portion of the scheme. He has a work experience of more than eight years
Other details of the scheme
Minimum of Rs. 5,000/- and in multiples of Re.1/- thereafter.
Minimum of Rs. 1,000/- and multiples of Re. 1/- thereafter.
CRISIL Short Term Bond Fund Index –85% and CNX 500 –15%
If the Units are redeemed / switched out on or before 180 days from the date of allotment – 0.50%
If the Units are redeemed / switched out after 180 days from the date of allotment – Nil
Maximum total expense ratio (TER) permissible under Regulation 52(6) Upto 2.25%
Additional expenses under regulation 52(6A)(c) Upto 0.20%
Additional expenses for gross new inflows from specified cities under Regulation 52(6A)(b) Upto 0.30%
SBI is the fourth bank after PNB, OBC and IDBI Bank to offer special interest rates on loans for buying automobiles and consumer durables such as televisions, air-conditioners and refrigerators during the festive season
State Bank of India (SBI), the country's largest lender on Wednesday reduced its interest rates on loans for cars and consumer durables. SBI is the fourth bank after PNB, OBC and IDBI Bank to offer special interest rates on loans to buy automobiles and consumer durables such as televisions, air-conditioners and refrigerators.
SBI has also decided to lower the processing charges to cash in on the festival season demand.
The decision to cut interest rates on auto and consumer durables loans comes nearly a week after the union government decided to pump in funds into state-run banks so that they can lower rates to stimulate demand in the targeted sector.
According to SBI, interest rate on car loan has been slashed by 0.2% to 10.55% from 10.75% earlier. It said, “Processing charge has also been cut from 0.51% of the loan amount with a minimum of Rs1,020 to a flat rate of Rs500”.
The bank has also launched a special festival loan for its salary account holders for buying consumer durables and two-wheelers.
Discounts are available under this offer resulting in effective interest rates starting from 12.05%.
This 'Utsav Ki Umang, SBI ke Sang' offer is valid from 7 October 2013 till 31 January 2014, and covers the purchase of cars, two-wheelers and consumer durables.
IDBI is offering home and auto loans at its base rate of 10.25% during the festive season. The lender has also decided to waive processing fee for both these loans during the festive period starting from 9 October 2013.