The U.S. Treasury Department announced Monday that it would no longer require politically active nonprofit groups to disclose their donors to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a move heralded by conservatives as a major win for “free speech.”
Under the new rules, tax-exempt organizations like the National Rifle Association will no longer need to file “personally-identifiable information” in their end-of-year returns. Other groups which would be let off the hook from disclosure include politically active nonprofits, which conservative donor Robert Mercer previously used to help finance Donald Trump’s election campaign.
“Americans shouldn’t be required to send the IRS information that it doesn’t need to effectively enforce our tax laws, and the IRS simply does not need tax returns with donor names and addresses to do its job in this area,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. “The IRS’s new policy for certain tax-exempt organizations will make our tax system simpler and less susceptible to abuse.”
The news comes the same day that an indictment was unsealed against Russian national Mariia Butina, a gun advocate and former American University graduate student. According to the Department of Justice, Butina used the NRA to “exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics, who were in positions to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.” Butina allegedly spent years courting top NRA officials, and worked with former Russian Senator Alexander Torshin, who is wanted on money-laundering charges by the Spanish authorities.
“She appeared to have access to the NRA leadership,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told the Daily Beast. “If I represented the NRA, this would be a very alarming development.”
The NRA’s financial ties to the Trump campaign and Russian donors are also being scrutinized by the Federal Election Commission (FED). The organization initially claimed to have only received one contribution from a Russian donor since 2012, but it later admitted that it had actually accepted contributions from more than two dozen individuals. The NRA donated over $30 million to the Trump campaign, but the Mariia Butina revelations, coupled with FEC’s investigation, raise serious questions about where that money came from and how it was used.
The Treasury Department’s latest policy change comes on the heels of another announcement by Secretary Mnuchin, who said said Thursday he supported legislative changes that would crack down on anonymous shell companies. Although the move was initially hailed by financial transparency activists, this week’s announcement regarding nonprofit groups has smothered most outside enthusiasm.