David Brock, the conservative turned liberal advocate, has recently garnered a considerable amount of press coverage for his attacks on Fox News for, among many other things, allegedly taking over leadership of the Republican Party. What the news coverage has ignored is his use of tax-free funds for his organization, Media Matters for America (MMA), for these attacks — a form of government support for activities that clearly do not merit tax-exempt status and that as a result infringe on Fox News’ First Amendment rights.
MMA was originally established as an Internal Revenue Service Section 501(c)(3) organization, that is, an organization that can receive tax-deductible contributions to engage in educational activities. The more precise purpose was to counter alleged media bias and so to “identify occurrences of excessive bias in the American media, educate the public as to their existence, and to work with members of the media to reduce them.”
What MMA actually is doing, however, moves far afield from identifying possible bias to mounting a campaign to undermine a major media outlet and to promote the Democratic Party and progressive causes associated with it. Mr. Brock himself has described this new strategy as “a war on Fox,” an effort “to disrupt [Rupert Murdoch‘s] commercial interests” and look for ways to turn regulators against News Corp.’s media outlets.
MMA’s activities should disallow its tax-exempt status in two fundamental ways. First, IRS rulings make clear that attacks on individuals, statement of positions that are unsupported by facts and use of inflammatory language and other distortions will cost an organization its tax-free status. Second, in declaring “guerrilla warfare” on Fox as the “leader” and “mouthpiece” of the Republican Party and in developing a sophisticated Democratic-leaning media training boot camp, MMA has transformed itself into an aggressive advocate for Democratic and progressive causes and thus produced a second deviation from exempt educational activities.
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