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Tag Archive: IRS

As IRS Takes Aim at Fake Social Welfare Organizations, Will Some in Congress Take Aim at the IRS?


Internal_Revenue_Service_logo In a surprise announcement, the IRS has opened the door to re-writing outdated rules regarding political activity of so-called social welfare organizations. The move is long overdue. Over a year ago, Sunlight urged the agency to take a look at rules that have not been updated since 1959. We also told Congress that after it held hearings on the IRS’s targeting of groups with conservative sounding names, it should provide guidance for the agency as to how it could more effectively, efficiently and fairly enforce the law. Even though that congressional leadership never materialized, the IRS should be congratulated for taking the first steps toward reforming its broken rules. The IRS doesn’t have an easy road ahead of it. In the best case scenario, rules won’t be finalized until after the 2014 elections, ensuring that fake social welfare organizations—organizations like Crossroads GPS on the right and Patriot Majority USA on the left—will continue spending the vast majority of their money on election-related activity, not "social welfare." The IRS will face obstruction from congressional Republicans (in the form of legislation attempting to ban the IRS from enacting new rules, threats to its budget, or still more hearings) as well as court challenges that will further threaten the adoption of clear regulations.

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OpenGov Voices: Announcing CitizenAudit, a free tool for fully-OCRd nonprofit financials


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the Luke Rosiakopinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Luke Rosiak is a former Sunlight Foundation reporter and database analyst who now writes for the Washington Examiner. Luke is also a winner of Sunlight Foundation’s OpenGov Grants for his project, CitizenAudit. You can reach Luke on Twitter at @lukerosiak.

In return for not paying taxes, nonprofits in the U.S. file detailed financial disclosures to the IRS, listing how much of their money goes to certain categories, how much they pay their top people and what groups they give money to.

But even though large nonprofits submit structured electronic data, the IRS takes pains to convert it into paper copies and doesn’t make them available publicly at all, instead directing interested parties to request a copy from the organization itself.

Recently, tech pioneer Carl Malamud’s Public.Resource.Org began successfully filing Freedom of Information Act requests for all disclosures--990s, as they are called---and paying the IRS on a monthly basis for reams of DVDs with TIFF images. Some are scanned paper filings, for others the IRS went out of their way to turn structured data into a mere image. None has an embedded text layer.


The information is invaluable for philanthropists, journalists and competitors--and the universe of nonprofits is enormous, including the major sports leagues, political groups, hospitals and universities and quasi-public institutions.

So I began an enormous OCRing spree, using open-source tools and home-built software and put the results in elasticsearch and PostgreSQL on a free site. The effort, half the funding for which came thanks to a Sunlight Foundation OpenGov grant of $5,000, is called

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Politically connected nonprofits have long bested the IRS


The Republican Governors Public Policy Committee is a nonprofit organization with a multimillion dollar budget devoted to "promoting social welfare and efficient and responsible government practices" according to the most recent tax return it filed with the Internal Revenue Service. On its website, the group tells a different story: It's "the official policy organization of the nation’s Republican governors."

As House Government Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Darrell Issa, R-Calif., prepares to broaden his investigation of the Internal Revenue Service's admitted targeting of conservative groups ...

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The Political Spending of 501(c)(4) Nonprofits in the 2012 Election


Throughout the 2012 election cycle, Sunlight followed the unlimited money. From super PACs and corporations to unions and “dark money” we collected, in real time, the political spending reported by these outside groups. With the 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofits back in the news again (and the IRS’s enforcement of them), we wanted to take a closer look at how these organizations spent money to influence the 2012 election. We often use the term “dark money” to describe these groups since they can spend an unlimited amount on independent expenditures and electioneering communications yet they do not have to disclose their donors. For more information on how to track all types of federal campaign finance disclosures, check out this handy infographic. Overall, dark money groups reported $300 million in independent expenditures in 2012. Of the 50 groups who spent the most, 15 are 501(c)(4) nonprofits. Using our Follow The Unlimited Money tracker, Political Ad Sleuth, Ad Hawk and return on investment calculations, here is how they made an impact in the race for the White House and Congress.

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Reporter’s notebook: How we came up with that campaign finance maze


If it makes you all feel any better, campaign finance is hard for us too.

At the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group, we make a speciality of money in politics reporting, so when the dark money groups that we often cover burst into the headlines -- on reports that the Internal Revenue Service was denying the coveted tax exempt status to Tea Party groups -- we figured it was time to put what we know about the campaign finance ecosystem out there.

The process turned out to be revealing, if painful.

You can see the final product here. But we learned a lot ...

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