Dark money secrets: NRA, Planned Parenthood & others can now conceal donors
The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced Monday that politically active nonprofit groups like the NRA and Planned Parenthood will no longer need to file “personally-identifiable information” about their donors in their annual returns. It described the process as an “unnecessary reporting requirement.”
While nonprofit organizations that are tax-exempt due to to their charitable, educational or religious status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code still have to provide information about their donors, other 501(c) tax exempt organizations like social-welfare focused groups and trade associations no longer need to do so.
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The Treasury Department said the policy will reduce the risk of “inadvertent disclosure” or misuse of confidential information, which it said is an “especially important safeguard for organizations engaged in free speech and free association protected by the First Amendment.” It also said “conservative tax-exempt groups were disproportionately impacted by improper screening” under the Obama administration.
The move is likely to be cheered by wealthy donors and conservatives who have long accused the policy of subjecting conservative groups to more scrutiny.
One influential group to gain from the new rule is the NRA, which is classed as a social welfare organization and spent $35 million on elections in 2016 through its NRA Institute for Legislative Action arm, and $54.4 million in total. Others include groups created by the billionaire Charles and David Koch brothers, and the liberal America Votes and Patriot Majority USA.
These politically active nonprofit groups can participate in political campaigns so long as it isn’t their primary activity. The groups can accept unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations and can also give funds to other nonprofits, which doesn’t count as political spending. This money is often funneled into campaign super PACs, allowing wealthy donors to circumvent individual campaign contribution limits. These groups are also a handy way for corporations and individuals to donate to causes they may not wish to be publicly associated with.
Such groups have risen since the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United ruling that opened the doors for unlimited spending on political activities.
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