WASHINGTON — Two campaign finance watchdog groups Thursday asked the Justice Department to investigate a "dark money" group running ads in support of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for president.
Conservative Solutions Project, a nonprofit, has raised at least $16 million and has funded a number of television ads that feature Rubio. A newer spot included the image of Utah Sen. Mike Lee, but Rubio was the clear focus. The group has spent about $8 million so far and has reserved another $2 million in air time, according to ad tracking data reviewed by the Associated Press.
The group does not disclose its donors, as is allowed under law, and represents a new force in politics alongside the explosive rise of super PACs, which also can take in unlimited donations but have to name donors.
"The investigation should determine whether CSP is improperly conferring a 'private benefit' on Senator Marco Rubio's presidential campaign in violation of federal tax law by engaging in excessive campaign activity on Senator Rubio's behalf that is not permitted for a section 501(c)(4) organization," reads a letter from the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21.
According to Campaign Legal Center executive director J. Gerald Hebert:
The publicly available facts indicate that Conservative Solutions Project is little more than a single-candidate 501(c)(4), with no other mission than to advance the presidential aspirations of Rubio and as such is in clear violation of the tax code. 501(c)(4) "social welfare groups" by statute must "(promote) the common good and general welfare of the people of the community as a whole" rather than an individual candidate for political office.
In promoting the Rubio candidacy, to the apparent exclusion of all else, Hebert said, Conservative Solutions Project "would seem to be in clear violation of the tax exempt status it claims but for which it has yet to even apply."
"If these apparent violations are left unchallenged, they will quickly be emulated by candidates for Congress and soon by candidates for state and local office, as well," he said. "The victims of this type of apparent lawbreaking will be the American people who will not only be cheated out of tax revenue but, more importantly, robbed of any information about the special interests seeking to buy influence with public officials."
Conservative Solutions Project also is the subject of a complaint to the IRS from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. That complaint was filed in October and makes similar arguments.
A Conservative Solutions Project spokesman, Jeff Sadosky, said Thursday: "It is clear that D.C.'s left-wing elites are incredibly afraid that a positive conservative message focused on solutions will put additional pressure" on the Obama administration or Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"But as it has for the past two years, Conservative Solutions Project remains focused on one thing: advocating for a conservative agenda that will solve some of the most serious issues American families are facing," Sadosky said.