A Livingston County lawyer has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about the activities of a conservative nonprofit organization that has been fighting against mask and vaccine mandates in Michigan and across the country.
Attorney Sarah Cross of Brighton filed the complaint with the IRS last week, claiming that the activities of the Moms for Liberty group, which has chapters nationwide, is in violation of the requirements for groups claiming tax-exempt status as social welfare organizations.
In the seven-page complaint, Cross states that while the activities of such groups are not supposed to “include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office,” they are allowed to engage in some political activities, “so long as that is not its primary activity.” She then includes a 200 page document containing what she says are the “substantial political activities of this group.”
The complaint notes that 501(c)(4) organizations like Moms for Liberty are required to operate primarily in “promoting in some way
the common good and general welfare of the people of the community,” and that if they engage in community education activities, they must be conducted in a non-partisan manner.
Cross notes that Moms for Liberty has 191 Chapters, but that only 16, or just over 8%, have public Facebook pages. She also states that the national organization acts as an administrator for 100% of the groups she was able to look at.
“I point this out to illustrate that the National Organization has power and control over all of the Chapters operating under it’s umbrella,” Cross says. “Membership is not open to the public and the information, calls to action, and
“educational” materials of this social welfare organization only inure to the benefit of the
members. While anyone can be a member of the National Organization, that is not the case for the Chapters. I applied to be a member of 33 of their chapter’s private groups. I was only admitted to 3 despite accepting their rules and answering the questions.”
Cross also states that she found 138 social media postings either endorsing Republican candidates, hosting forums only for Republican candidates, campaigning for Republican candidates, or having Republicans speak at Chapter events. In addition, she says only 3 out of 191 Chapters hosted bi-partisan candidate forums.
Based on her findings, Cross believes “the Moms for Liberty ‘educational’ materials do not appear to meet a nonpartisan standard,” and that “very little” of such material was actually created by the group, but instead consist of links to materials created by other organizations.
“If simply linking to educational materials created by a 3rd party is enough to qualify a group for tax exempt status “ says Cross, “the bar seems incredibly low.”
Cross then goes on to note that on issues that the group has taken an active stance on, such as gender identity, sex education, covid mitigation measures, or book banning, she didn’t find a single item that presented materials in any sort of independent manner intended to allow a member of the public to form their own opinions, but instead the viewer has a pre-formed opinion provided for them.
“It would be a permissible educational purpose if there were advocating to remove gender discussions from classrooms and schools if there was a balanced presentation of benefits and drawbacks of using a person’s preferred pronouns, supporting LGBTQ youth, impacts on children of being “exposed” to LGBTQ supportive environments,” states Cross. “There is not. There is homophobic propoganda and agressive posts, messages, and videos of
Moms for Liberty accusing schools and educators of being pedophile groomers because of LGBTQ materials in schools, employing LGBTQ staff, etc. In fact, Moms for Liberty is actively pressuring schools to violate federal laws against discrimination on the basis of sex in employment.”
As an example, Cross notes that the Moms for Liberty Livingston County Chapter has made repeated public posts about male teachers being allowed to dress as women at school.
“Transgender people are federally protected from discrimination in employment by the Supreme Court,” says Cross. “So, there is just no educational purpose to these materials based on commonly accepted interpretations of the Internal Revenue regulations.”
Cross says based on her findings, as well as past legal precedent, “Moms for Liberty fails to meet the standards for a tax exempt political
educational organization because it doesn’t create its own training materials, only presents materials/forums from Republican groups, and the materials it does have are not presented in a non-partisan educational manner designed to allow the community to make their own decisions.”
As examples, she again points to the group’s Livingston County Chapter, stating that its members have participated in several campaign events for Republican state Senate candidate Mike Detmer, while also attending all of the recall hearings for two Brighton Area Schools Board of Education trustees; John Conely, who she notes was recently named as Republican of the Year by the Livingston County Republican Party, and William Trombley.
Cross, who drafted the recall petitions and is leading the effort to gather signatures for the November ballot, says that under Michigan Election Law, a recall drive is a political campaign and that by attending all of the recall hearings for Conely and Trombley, as well speaking in their defense, and making what she said were dozens of public posts and calls to action asking people to oppose the recall, the group appears to be participating in more than a “nominal amount of political campaign activity.”
Cross then makes a case that “Moms for Liberty is a hate group whose purpose is to threaten, harass, and intimate school districts into pushing their anti-lgbtq, anti-diversity, and anti-equality agenda for the benefit of its members and not the general welfare.”
To illustrate that point, she says that the group’s Livingston County chapter chair, Jennifer Smith, openly threatened the School Board with violence and that at times, up to 7 armed police officers have been in attendance at school board meetings because of what she described as “screaming, abusive behavior from members of the Moms for Liberty,” adding that she herself was “threatened with a punch in the face from someone in their group at a board meeting.”
Cross says Smith also attended a school board meeting in the Harland Consolidated Schools district in which she called teachers there “domestic terrorists” for their support of Social Emotional Learning. Another member of the Livingston County chapter, Brooke Chapel, also posted a video on social media alleging teachers and substitutes in the district are pedophile groomers because of their support for LGBTQ students.
“Again, it’s very hard to see how harassment, threats, and intimidation are actions designed to further the public good,” says Cross.
Cross closes her complaint by saying it is “a disgusting affront to our democracy that our tax dollars are subsidizing this hate group,” and that their tax exempt status should be stripped
because of excessive political activity, calling it “nothing more than a puppet organization for the Republican Party.”
The connections between Moms for Liberty and the GOP have been documented previously, including an expose by Media Matters that highlighted the financial and other connections between the two organizations.
Requests for comments were made to both the national Moms for Liberty organization and the Livingston County chapter, but have yet to be returned.
However, for Cross the point remains that while Moms for Liberty has every right to publicly espouse and promote their beliefs, they should not be allowed to do so at taxpayer expense.
“What an organization says it does and what the bulk of it’s actual work is can be very different things,” Cross said. “The true advocacy of Moms for Liberty is to eliminate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for education. DEl is really just a fancy term for civil rights. It’s hard to see how advocating to eliminate DEl from schools can be framed as furthering the common good or general welfare.”