Republican Senate political shop hits environmental group Sen. Kirk ad

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WASHINGTON –The National Republican Senatorial Committee filed a complaint Thursday with the IRS, accusing the Natural Resources Defense Council of violating its tax-exempt status by getting “involved in a political campaign” against Kirk.

Kirk is up for re-election in 2016 and Democrats are preparing a major drive to win the seat. On Thursday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed the Senate candidacy of Rep. Tammy Duckworth D-Ill., over attorney Andrea Zopp.

On Tuesday, the NRDC, a leading national environmental group, started hitting Kirk in a tv ad for a June vote eroding the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The spot is running on Chicago cable and broadcast television outlets through July 17, with the NRDC plowing $1 million in the ad.

That Clean Power Plan is a central element of the Obama administration effort to address climate change – a major issue for the NRDC. The group went after Kirk at this time because the Senate may take up the matter again soon.

There are a multitude of laws and rules governing communications from advocacy groups – often focusing on a particular issue – and organizations conducting more obvious political activities.

The distinctions between different types of carefully worded political messages – written sometimes with a scalpel to keep things legal – are sometimes subtle and may not be obvious to a viewer.

The Republican Senate political operation asserts in a letter sent to the IRS that the spot crossed a line into the political and was a “flagrant violation” of the NRDC’s tax-exempt status, which allows donors to take tax breaks for donations.

Earlier in the week, Henry Henderson, the NRDC’s Midwest Program told the Sun-Times they are sending the $1 million message to Kirk because “we anticipate a series of votes attacking the clean power plan which is the only viable opportunity to address climate change presently before Americans.”

On Thursday, Henderson, told about the Republican political shop complaint, said the “public education” ad was about a “a particular vote related to the Clean Air Plan” and not about Kirk’s re-election.

“This is not a political ad. This is a public issue and public education ad,” Henderson said.

David Goldston, director of government affairs at NRDC, said the IRS complaint was a diversion by the Senate Republican political shop to take the focus from Kirk’s vote, “which they have yet tried to truly defend.”

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