Stealth PACs

Who is influencing your decisions? In today’s political environment, you may never know for sure. The legal ramifications of groups operating as 501(c)4 and 527 entities are changing the political landscape.

Recently I tried to find information on a Southeast Wisconsin group that is promoting a fund raiser for the end of February. They had a Web site. There was an announcement of the group’s event on a small city’s official Web site. But when I tried to found out more about them, I was denied information.

The group, attempting to raise funds at $50 a head, is registered as a 501(c)4. This designation allows an organization to influence legislation under the premise of education. They may also contribute directly to candidate support as long as it doesn’t exceed 49% of the groups purpose. A 501(c)4 NEVER has to disclose who is contributing to their coffers.

Last December the Wall Street Journal wrote:

The 501(c) organizations are likely to become even more important in the 2008 election. After the 2004 election, the FEC sought to crack down on 527 organizations that violate the IRS rule against calling for the election or the defeat of any candidate. Now, several large 527 groups are setting up 501(c)4 social-welfare organizations, which are allowed to back candidates explicitly.

MoveOn.org is one example of a group that’s set up a 501(c)4. That group’s attack ads get attention.

So now that it’s campaign season, do the responsible thing. When someone asks you for money, ask how that organization is set up. If they claim to be a charity, like our local organization did initially, look them up under Charity Navigator. If information can’t be found there, ask to see who the board of directors are and where they live. It will give you an idea if the group is local or genuinely state wide in influence. Ask them what they intend to do with the money you’ll be giving. And remember, donations to 501(c)3 not-for-profits are deductible from your own taxes; the donations to the other groups are not.

If you are asked to donate to a campaign cause, it’s completely within your right to ask who the other donors are. The last thing you may want is to be on a list with a Troha.

Finally, when you see fliers or advertising for a candidate or cause, scrutinize the tiny disclaimer on the bottom of the page or ad. Figure out who is trying to influence your vote before you let them influence your vote. If there isn’t a disclaimer, don’t give them your time–or money.

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