FOI Update: unveils IRS data on ‘dark money’ non-profits, run by the Center for Responsive Politics, unveiled the largest set of public IRS data on politically active non-profits June 4 to help track down donors of “dark money” that has skyrocketed to hundreds of millions of dollars during the past three elections.

“Dark money” refers to money given to non-profit groups from undisclosed people, unions and corporations. Since non-profit organizations do not legally have to name their donors, OpenSecrets says politically active spenders who want to “game the IRS” only have to “create a 501(c)(4) tax exempt group and spend away.”  Then they can “exploit definitions and disarray” before relaxing, regrouping and procreating.

Using this method, political spenders have turned some non-profits into top-secret money sources funneling “hundreds of millions of dollars into the electoral system while dodging the disclosure requirements that apply to almost all other organizations that support or oppose political candidates,” according to OpenSecrets.

Although the IRS is supposed to curb the political influence of these non-profits, OpenSecrets says their failure to do so has resulted in non-profit spending during federal elections increasing from $5.2 billion to $300 billion in the past six years alone. They say increased spending primarily funds direct appeals to vote for or against particular candidates.

The Center for Responsive Politics has been collecting and processing this data on politically active non-profits for the past year and a half.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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