The first congressional hearing triggered by the news that the Internal Revenue Service inappropriately targeted tea party groups for additional scrutiny begins Friday, and it’s clear the issue isn’t going away anytime soon.
The Center for Responsive Politics has been intensively researching and writing about politically active nonprofits — also known as 501(c)(4) organizations, or, more colloquially, “dark money” groups — for more than a year. Since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision freed them to participate more directly in electoral politics, they have been used to pour money into the system at an unprecedented rate.
But when they spend their money directly in support of or opposition to a candidate, they must report to the Federal Election Commission. FEC data collected and analyzed by OpenSecrets.org shows that in the 2012 election alone, politically active nonprofits reported spending more than $308 million. Many millions more were likely spent on “issue ads” that escaped reported rules.
By painstakingly going through public tax returns filed by tax-exempt groups, we have been able to trace how some of the money has flowed between them. We have posted that information (here’s an example) when we have it.
- How conservative group American Committment seemed to make $10 million disappear by churning money between its various related groups.
- How Obama’s dark money allies make big payments to political consultants.
- The phenomenon of dark money mailboxes — social welfare organizations that act as way stations for dark money and have few or no activities of their own.
- How one prominent liberal group churns money through a confusing web of similarly named 501(c)(4)s and 527 groups.
There are a host of other stories on our Shadow Money Trail page, including “Shadow Money Magic,” our five-part report on how some of these groups game the IRS.