Turning Point USA founder and president Charlie Kirk is launching a new political action arm to the organization that he’s calling Turning Point Action, but an early donation link may have already violated nonprofit tax rules and regulations.
CNBC reported yesterday that Kirk was preparing to launch a 501(c)(4) entity that would be allowed to campaign for and against candidates pursuing office in 2020. Turning Point Action, which CNBC discovered via a donor link, is expected to launch in June.
The donor link created last week with the headline “REMOVE ILHAN OMAR” asked people to contribute money to Turning Point Action in order to demonstrate to Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar “how much we’re willing to donate to fight to REMOVE HER from office.”
When a donor gives money to Turning Point Action’s 501(c)(4) fund for electoral work, whether it be $45 to honor Trump as the 45th president or $1,000 to receive a personal thank you note from Kirk, they are promised a bumper sticker distributed by Turning Point USA’s 501(c)(3) operation as a token of the organization’s gratitude. The sticker declares that its affixer loves capitalism and prominently features the URL for Turning Point USA’s website.
A source familiar with Turning Point USA’s internal operations told Right Wing Watch that Turning Point USA creates their stickers in-house from a shipping and printing facility in Illinois and that the stickers are purchased and shipped with tax-deductible 501(c)(3) nonprofit funds and staff labor. The same stickers are available for $3 on Turning Point USA’s web store.
Additionally, ads soliciting donations to Turning Point Action have already appeared on Facebook and appear to be financed by Turning Point USA. Advertisements on Facebook have included disclosures stating who paid for them since the platform unrolled new transparency tools last year.
Turning Point USA, which states on its website that its mission is to “educate students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government” via “non-partisan debate, dialogue, and discussion,” is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and therefore forbidden from engaging, both directly and indirectly, in political campaigns.
The IRS prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from working to prevent a public official from being re-elected. Since Omar will campaign for reelection in 2020, it can be argued that by gifting donors a bumper sticker from Turning Point USA paid for with 501(c)(3) funds, Turning Point USA is supporting the Turning Point Action’s 501(c)(4) efforts to remove Omar from office. Though the IRS often does not have the resources to police these kinds of acts, the agency will apply a facts and circumstances test in response to complaints about suspected tax-exempt status abuse.
Right Wing Watch attempted to reach Turning Point USA’s communications team via the press contact email listed on its website but did not receive a response prior to press time.
GOP officials and organizations have lauded Kirk’s Turning Point USA group, so much so that The Daily Beast dubbed Kirk and since-departed Turning Point USA Communications Director Candace Owens to be the “new king and queen of the GOP ball” at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference. At that same conference, Trump praised Kirk as having done “an incredible job,” and recently the Trump administration has taken policy stances advocated by Kirk’s group.
Alex Kotch reported for the International Business Times that Turning Point USA’s funders include wealthy GOP donors including the foundations of Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, and businessmen Vince Foglia, Bernie Marcus, Foster Friess, and Ed Uihlein.
Turning Point Action’s main landing page asks donors to help “defend students who are being attacked for supporting President Trump,” asking potential financers to assist Kirk in “saving free speech on campuses across the country!”