Campaign finance heavyweights in bitter battle

It's CREW vs. James Bopp in row over payments from nonprofit to law firm

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Conservative campaign finance attorney Jim Bopp today lambasted watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington for filing a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service that accuses him of improperly channeling money from a nonprofit to his law firm.

CREW, Bopp told the Center for Public Integrity, is an organization “paid to smear conservatives by filing complaints” that are “rarely found meritorious.” The organization’s complaint against him “completely lacks merit," he added.

“They just seem to be in business to smear people,” Bopp said.

As if to underscore his point, Bopp crashed a conference call CREW conducted this morning to announce its complaint.

CREW’s complaint states that Bopp has improperly diverted nearly all the assets of the James Madison Center for Free Speech, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization he co-founded in 1997, to the Bopp Law Firm for personal financial gain.

“Mr. Bopp is well-known for pushing the legal envelope, but you’d think he’d be more careful to comply with incontrovertible law,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a press release. “No matter how just Mr. Bopp believed his cause, there is no excuse for end-running the tax code.”

The James Madison Center for Free Speech, which provides free legal services to those pursuing free speech causes, shares an address and contact information with Bopp’s law firm and does not have any salaried employees, according to the group’s IRS records.

As general counsel, Bopp said he has provided the Center with pro bono services worth millions of dollars.  

All of the James Madison Center for Free Speech’s contributions, gifts and grants — totaling more than $255,000 — went to Bopp’s law firm in 2011, IRS documents show. The group reported just $338 in assets at the end of that year.

Bopp has argued against campaign finance regulations all over the country and is perhaps best known for representing the winning side of the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.