Clinton Email Exposes Liberal Non-Profit’s Partisan Campaign Work

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Mark Tapscott Executive Editor, Chief of Investigative Group
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Tax-exempt non-profit foundations are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in” partisan campaigns, but that didn’t prevent Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden from helping President Obama and his Democratic allies in the 2010 election.

Tanden – who was CAP’s chief executive officer at the time – was responding to a Sept. 7, 2010, email from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking “do you and CAP have any ideas as to how to change the dynamic before it’s too late? Losing the House would be a disaster in every way.”

John Podesta, Clinton’s 2016 national campaign manager and White House chief of staff under President Clinton, was the founding president of CAP and was there at the time of the Clinton-Neera email exchange about how to rescue Democratic campaigns from electoral disaster five years ago.

Clinton hit the send button at 7:06 a.m. that day. Tanden responded at length at 11:15 p.m. that night, according to copies of the exchange recently made public by the State Department. Clinton and Tanden go way back, with the latter serving in the former’s 2008 presidential bid.

“On whither the Democrats, well, that is a long email or even a memo,” Tanden said. “A few things – as it stands now, we could well lose the Senate, not just the House … CAP is doing its own polling and focus groups on economic messages, so I’ll have more to report soon if you’re interested.”

Tanden continued, saying that in April of 2010, “she went told the [White House] folks to get a core economic contrast, and create a contrast with the [Republicans] for the seven months that was then left till November.”

She pointed, among others, to Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold’s ultimately unsuccessful bid for re-election and Washington state Democrat Sen. Patty Murray, who was re-elected, as campaigns that needed help.

Among the White House “folks” Tanden advised was the President, who she said she talked “directly to … and they did try for a little bit, but then it didn’t really take Mold.” (Apparently, Tanden intended to type “Hold.”)

Optimism was not in Tanden’s assessment as she observed that “we also said to show that he was working relentlessly on the jobs problem, he had to do economic events almost every day. But they were focused on financial regulation (though they never tied that to job security) and then the BP oil spill … and now it’s a little late.”

Tanden’s email concluded by saying “I’m not sure that this would have closed a 10-point gap, but we think it would have helped.”

In the event, the 2010 election proved to be the disaster Clinton predicted, with Republicans regaining control of the House of Representatives, electing new senators and governors in key states and boosting the party’s state legislative seat total to heights not seen since Calvin Coolidge was in the White House.

The federal tax code is clear in prohibiting non-profit executives like Tanden from giving partisan political advice to candidates or political parties.

“Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” according to the IRS.

“Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

Tanden may also have exposed a prohibited activity involving others at her think tank in her offer to Clinton to make available for campaign purposes CAP’s “own polling and focus groups on economic messages …”

On its web site, CAP claims its purpose is to “develop new policy ideas, challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter, and shape the national debate. With policy teams in major issue areas, CAP can think creatively at the cross-section of traditional boundaries to develop ideas for policymakers that lead to real change. By employing an extensive communications and outreach effort that we adapt to a rapidly changing media landscape, we move our ideas aggressively in the national policy debate.”

Sharing for partisan political purposes the results of polls and focus groups meant to help develop and market policy ideas an proposals seems problematic in view of the clear prohibitions in the federal tax code.

Tanden could not be reached for comment.

The email exchange may also pose new problems for Clinton in her campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

The Hatch Act’s prohibition of partisan political activities by federal employees is partially waived in the case of the Secretary of State and certain other presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed officials.

But the Secretary of State is still barred from using “his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election; knowingly solicit, accept, or receive a political contribution from any person …,” according to the Office of Special Counsel, which is responsible for investigating allegations of Hatch Act violations.

The Sept. 7, 2010, email includes both Clinton seeking advice on how to affect the results of the 2010 congressional elections and soliciting such advice from another individual.

A Clinton spokesman could not be reached for comment.

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