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Group calls for IRS probe of American Future Fund

A Washington, D.C.,-based government watchdog is calling for the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether the American Future Fund (AFF) has violated tax law.

In a letter to the IRS asking for an investigation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) says AFF is registered as a 501c4 nonprofit, which means it doesn’t have to disclose its donors so long as engaging in political campaign activity is not its primary purpose. However, the group has spent millions trying to defeat Democratic candidates across the country.

American Future Fund, which is based out of a P.O. Box in Des Moines, spent almost $10 million on political activities in 2010 – $7.3 million on independent expenditures expressly advocating the election or defeat of candidates for federal office, and at least another $2.2 million on electioneering communications – ads that mention a candidate by name close to an election.

“There is nothing wrong with working to elect Republicans, but you can’t violate the law to do it,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “Given the amount of money the American Future Fund spent on ads in the 2010 congressional elections, it seems clear the primary – if not only – goal of the group is to elect Republicans to Congress.”

In October, AFF was accused of violating campaign finance laws in a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission demanding that it register as a political action committee and disclose its donors.

In December, several groups called on newly elected state Sen. Sandy Greiner (R-Keota) to resign her position as president of AFF, saying it was a conflict of interest for a sitting senator to lead an overtly political group. In a statement to The Iowa Independent, Greiner said she would not resign from AFF, but did step down from the group’s PAC.

“How can an organization that has a sitting Republican legislator as its chief executive claim to be non-partisan?” Sloan said. “It is clear the American Future Fund is a front for wealthy Republicans to anonymously spend millions electing Republicans to Congress.”

In addition to Greiner, the leadership of AFF is made up of numerous prominent Iowa Republicans, most with ties to Gov. Terry Branstad. In fact, Branstad himself served as chairman of American Future Fund’s Lecture Series before re-entering politics. Among those in Branstad’s inner circle with ties to AFF are:

  • Bruce Rastetter – ethanol businessman and co-chair of Branstad’s inaugural committee. He was the governor’s largest donor, and provided the seed money to start American Future Fund.
  • Nick Ryan – a founder of AFF and founder and president of the Concordia Group LLC (AFF paid Concordia $300,000 in 2008). Ryan was one of Branstad’s biggest financial contributors and is a long-time adviser to Rastetter.
  • Sandy Greiner — president of AFF and leader of a political action committee that successfully worked to encourage Branstad to jump back into politics.
  • Nicole Schlinger — past president of AFF who led Branstad’s fundraising efforts.
  • Tim Albrecht– Branstad’s communication director who previously served in the same position with AFF.
  • Kathy Pearson – secretary of The Progress Project and a member of Branstad’s Linn County campaign committee.
  • David Kochel – past president of The Progress Project, AFF’s sister organization, and formerly deputy manager of Branstad’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign. He did some consulting for Branstad’s most recent campaign as well.

The group’s leadership also includes media consultants who played key roles in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads in 2004 and the Willie Horton ad in 1988.

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