This summer, ProPublica created a dark money database which included every nonprofit group that it could find that was spending money on political ads. It has been updated.
The easiest way to find out if a particular nonprofit has been honest in its IRS filings is to look it up in ProPublica’s database, and examine the column that shows its answer to the question of whether its engages in political activity. This answer can then be compared to the spending the group reported in their 2010 tax returns—listed in the adjacent column of the ProPublica database—to determine whether they abided by their pledge or instead, after obtaining tax-exempt recognition, went on to conduct and report political spending.
There are two other tests of whether the group has abided by its declarations about political activity: Go to its FEC files to see if it has reported any spending, and consider any advertisements that it currently or recently aired on television. The IRS standard for whether an advertisement is political, by the way, is a common sense evaluation of its content. Basically, “If it walks like a political ad and it talks like a political ad, then it’s a political ad,” Barker said.
One hitch: the continuing emergence of new nonprofits and the long lag time between the airing of a political ad and public disclosure means that many groups may not be included in ProPublica’s database. For these groups, it is necessary to request their 1024 form directly from the IRS. An IRS spokeswoman provided the following instruction: “You may request a copy of the  Form from the IRS by FAXING a request that is prepared on your MEDIA LETTERHEAD to 1-513-263-5900, Attention: Group I: Media Liaison.”
The Special OPS OPSEC Education Fund, which just began airing ads this summer, is not included in ProPublica’s dark money database. So we faxed in a request for their 1024 forms on Tuesday, and are awaiting a response. Elliott of ProPublica, who employed this approach in his story last week about the misleading nonprofit in Ohio, said it took about two weeks for him to hear back from the IRS.
We hope to soon find out if the OPSEC Education Fund is abiding by campaign funding laws, and will let readers know. And if reporters around the country do similar stories about “social welfare” groups, CJR would love to see them.