With Spotlight on Super PAC Dollars, Nonprofits Escape Scrutiny - ProPublica
When super PACs announced their 2011 fundraising numbers earlier this week, it provided an early glimpse into how the new way of financing political campaigns may work in the upcoming election.
The filings showed that super PACs are indeed fundraising juggernauts, pulling in more than $98 million, with an average donation of $47,718. But so far, their sources of funding are largely transparent, not clouded in the kind of secrecy that some campaign-finance watchers had feared, and not relying that much on connected nonprofits that don’t disclose donors.
Instead, it was separate announcements this week from a cluster of politically active social welfare groups, known as 501(c)4s for their IRS tax code, that hinted at how secret money could factor into the upcoming election — and in a more direct fashion than initially forecast after the Supreme Court opened the door to super PACs two years ago.
On Tuesday, Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit arm of the GOP super PAC American Crossroads, announced it raised $32.6 million last year, far outstripping the super PAC itself, which raised $18.4 million. Priorities USA and American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, the nonprofit arms of the two largest Democrat super PACs, announced they raised $5.1 million. The super PACs, Priorities USA Action and American Bridge 21st Century, raised $8.1 million.
Unlike super PACs, which are required to identify their donors, social-welfare nonprofits such as Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA — also referred to as “dark money” groups — don’t have to disclose contributions to the FEC, although they are supposed to report spending on political ads within a day or two. The nonprofits have to disclose their annual revenue and expenses to the IRS, but often delay such filings. A few have not yet filed their taxes for 2010.