The IRS still has not responded to allegations from a former Center for American Progress (CAP) employee that the left-wing think tank coordinates on editorial content with the White House — revelations that could threaten the organization’s nonprofit status.
Former ThinkProgress reporter Zaid Jilani wrote a piece this week detailing his experiences working for the liberal blog, which is run by CAP’s 501(c)(4) nonprofit Action Fund, the advocacy arm of White House counselor John Podesta’s think tank. (RELATED: ‘Suffocating pressure’: Former Center for American Progress writer describes White House censorship)
“When I started working at ThinkProgress at the Center for American Progress Action Fund in 2009, I did so because it was an awesome platform to do good journalism. I knew that I disagreed with CAP on a number of issues, and that I wouldn’t be allowed to write things too harshly critical of President Obama — which half of senior CAP staff had worked for or wanted to work for — or the Democratic Party, or CAP’s corporate sponsors in the ‘Business Alliance.’
One of the controversial topics that was very constrained in our writing at ThinkProgress in 2009 was Afghanistan. CAP had decided not to protest Obama’s surge, so most our writing on the topic was simply neutral — we weren’t supposed to take a strong stand.
Flash forward a couple years, and the Democratic Party’s lawmakers in Congress were in open revolt over the Afghanistan policy. Our writing at ThinkProgress had opened up a lot on the issue, and I was writing really critical stuff.
But then phone calls from the White House started pouring in, berating my bosses for being critical of Obama on this policy. Obama’s advisor Ben Rhodes — speaking of a staffer who follows policy set by others for his career path — even made a post on the White House blog more or less attacking my chart by fudging the numbers and including both the Iraq and Afghan troop levels in a single chart to make it seem as if the surge never happened (the marvels of things you can do in Excel!).
Soon afterwards all of us ThinkProgress national security bloggers were called into a meeting with CAP senior staff and basically berated for opposing the Afghan war and creating daylight between us and Obama. It confused me a lot because on the one hand, CAP was advertising to donors that it opposed the Afghan war — in our “Progressive Party,” the annual fundraising party we do with both Big Name Progressive Donors and corporate lobbyists (in the same room!) we even advertised that we wanted to end the war in Afghanistan.
But what that meeting with CAP senior staff showed me was that they viewed being closer to Obama and aligning with his policy as more important than demonstrating progressive principle, if that meant breaking with Obama. Essentially, they were doing the same thing to us RT America is telling its American producers to do now — align with your boss, who is the president of the country.”
While CAP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the CAP Action Fund is a 501(c)(4), meaning that it will be subject to new restrictions on candidate-related political activity under IRS rules devised in part by ex-IRS official Lois Lerner and recently proposed by the Obama administration.
“I can attest that I experienced similar kinds of editorial pressures when I was at CAP,” tweeted Salon writer David Sirota.
“The Center for American Progress Action Fund is a non-profit, non-partisan organization under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue code,” according to the group’s website.
The IRS, CAP, and ThinkProgress editor-in-chief Judd Legum did not return requests for comment.