Are these organizations primarily political? Here is how Open Secrets described Rove’s 501(c)(4) operation and its political influence and ties:

American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, both formed in 2010, are the heavy hitters of the multicandidate outside spending groups. They were started and continue to operate in consultation with GOP operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie. American Crossroads, a super PAC, and GPS, a 501(c)(4) that isn’t required to disclose its donors, spent more than $70 million that year, according to one of its officials, though they only reported spending a little more than half that to the Federal Election Commission. Steven Law, former general counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is president of both groups. The groups raised $51 million in 2011, and have said they plan to spend much more than that in the 2012 elections.

Consider that in the context of a 1963 federal appeals court, which ruled that to qualify for tax exemption under 501(c)(4), “the organization must be a community movement designed to accomplish community ends.”

A couple of smaller points: Many news organizations also reported that the IRS wanted the names of donors, indicating (or quoting organizations as saying) that this is improper. Actually, disclosing donors to the IRS is required of most tax exempt organizations on Form 990 Schedule B, as Lerner told reporters Friday. However, Schedule B is not made public by the IRS, while Form 990 is. (The IRS did, improperly, release some donor information to ProPublica, as it reported here and here.)

One more: Jonathan Weisman, on the front page of Saturday’s New York Times, wrote:

The Internal Revenue Service apologized to Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations on Friday for what it now says were overzealous audits of their applications for tax-exempt status….

In the context of the IRS, “audit” is a loaded word, and implies something more onerous than filling out a long questionnaire.

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David Cay Johnston covers fiscal and budget matters for CJR’s United States Project. He is a reporter with 46 years of experience, including 13 at The New York Times; a columnist for Tax Analysts; teaches tax and regulatory law at Syracuse University Law School; and is president of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). Follow him on Twitter @DavidCayJ.