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IRS is called to look into nonprofit for Jan. 6 rioters

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Former President Trump has embraced defendants charged in the January 6 insurrection. And the Trump reelection campaign has developed close ties with a nonprofit that provides financial support to January 6 defendants. As NPR's Tom Dreisbach reports, members of Congress are calling for the IRS to take a close look at whether that group's activities violate federal law.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Donald Trump's political operation first featured this group at a rally in 2022.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: The Patriot Freedom Project - what a job they do. Where are you? Where are you? Stand up. What a job.

DREISBACH: The Patriot Freedom Project provides financial help to January 6 defendants and describes them as, quote, "political prisoners." The group is organized as a charity under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code. That means they don't have to pay certain state and federal taxes, and their donors can deduct their contributions to the group at tax time. Those benefits have helped the Patriot Freedom Project raise more than $2 million, including $10,000 from Trump's political action committee.

But under federal law, those benefits come with an absolute restriction. The group cannot legally get involved in political campaigns by directly or even indirectly supporting or opposing candidates. So it raised questions when the group held a fundraiser at a Trump golf club last summer, and the group's leader, Cynthia Hughes, stood next to Trump and said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CYNTHIA HUGHES: When you go to the ballot box, don't worry about what you hear in the media. Worry about what's right for this country. And the only thing that's right for this country is this gem.

(CHEERING)

DREISBACH: The gem Hughes was referring to was Trump, and she then gave him a hug. And NPR found other Patriot Freedom Project events where speakers promoted the Trump campaign. Congressman Jamie Raskin is a Maryland Democrat and served on the January 6 Select Committee in Congress.

JAMIE RASKIN: I'm certainly alarmed to learn that a 501(c)(3) organization is sending out direct political advocacy, meaning messages telling people to vote for this candidate or to vote against that candidate. That clearly cuts against the letter of the law.

DREISBACH: Congressman Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat, told NPR that the IRS should, quote, "immediately open an investigation." If the IRS does find that the group violated the law, they can revoke its tax-exempt status and impose tax penalties. The Patriot Freedom Project did not respond to NPR's requests for comment.

Tom Dreisbach, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.