A data hack reveals the right-wing Liberty Counsel may have violated IRS rules against political activity.
The hacktivist site Enlace Hacktivista released a 25-gigabyte Liberty Counsel database containing nearly seven years of donor records, which show that 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations controlled by the evangelical organization encouraged supporters to vote for Donald Trump -- an apparent violation of IRS rules prohibiting those entities from endorsing political candidates, reported The Intercept.
“Noticing a worrying trend of far-right and anti-abortion activists aligning themselves with the evangelical Christian movement, hiding their funding sources behind laws that allow church ministries to keep their donations secret, we decided to bring about some much-needed radical transparency," wrote the hacker, who identifies with the Anonymous movement.
Liberty Counsel, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is registered with the IRS as an “association of churches,” so it's not required to file a public tax return, and it has played an instrumental role in the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, as well as challenging LGBTQ rights and vaccine mandates under the guise of religious freedom.
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“Because the IRS has not been very diligent in enforcing the law, many 501(c)(3) groups are pushing the envelope when it comes to politics,” Rob Boston, a senior adviser at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Liberty Counsel, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, controls a number of smaller groups that all share the same hacked database, and only the related 501(c)(4) Liberty Counsel Action has an IRS status allowing it to endorse or oppose political candidates, although churches may take stands on issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage.
But a review of email newsletters and blog posts in the Liberty Counsel data showed communications where Liberty Counsel-controlled 501(c)(3) groups Faith & Liberty and Christians in Defense of Israel encouraged supporters to vote for Trump in 2020, and chairman Mat Staver sent out an email the day after the Jan. 6 insurrection echoing Trump's election lies.
“We know God can intervene and turn what looks like a hopeless cause into a miraculous victory!” Staver wrote.
Liberty Counsel’s website is based on the software Site Stacker, which is developed by WMTEK, a company that works exclusively for Christian nonprofits, and the Anonymous hacker discovered vulnerabilities in the organization's website -- such as a WMTEK administrator who used the password "Password1."
The hacker realized the rest of WMTEK's clients were similarly vulnerable and grabbed membership and donor records for more than 90 Christian nonprofits, and the data shows more than $748 million from about 409,000 donors to those organizations since September 2015.