Secret Persuasion: How Big Campaign Donors Stay Anonymous : NPR
As tax-exempt organizations become a vehicle of choice for big political donors, one powerful appeal is the anonymity. Federal laws allow tax-exempt groups - unlike political committees - to withhold their donor lists from disclosure.
And some groups take the low profile a step further. An investigation by NPR and the Center for Responsive Politics found a tier of social welfare groups that operate behind the scenes, raising money and doling it out to other, more public groups, while reporting those grants to the IRS only annually.
One pioneer in this activity is the Wellspring Committee, founded in 2008. Based in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, it has raised $24 million, and distributed nearly $16.9 million to other social welfare groups. Using tax records, the NPR-CRP investigation identified three of its donors - other social welfare groups - and found they accounted for just over $251,000, or one percent of Wellspring’s revenues.
NPR’s Power, Money and Influence Correspondent Peter Overby reported this story with Viveca Novak, editorial director, and Robert Maguire, political nonprofits investigator, from the Center for Responsive Politics. For this investigation, they used tax records to map out the relationships between social welfare organizations. To dive deeper into this story, you can explore CRP’s database tracking political nonprofit spending since 2008.
The reporting team also wrote more about the Wellspring Committee. Continue reading at opensecrets.org: Wellspring’s Flow: Dark Money Outfit Helped Fuel Groups on Political Front Lines
Wellspring’s president is Ann Corkery, an active figure within the social conservative movement. Over the years, she has been involved with the National Organization for Marriage, Catholic League and other groups working on social issues.
Wellspring, however, says it focuses on economic matters. It told the IRS in its application for tax-exempt status that it would “assist other like-minded organizations in promoting free market policies and principles.” It also would help other organizations “in developing messaging strategies,” apparently drawing on Corkery’s experience as a lawyer specializing in reputation campaigns.