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IRE 2015: Merchants

of Mudslinging
Michael Beckel
Reporter, Center for Public Integrity
@mjbeckel: 202-481-1249

Tip Sheet:

Whos behind that political ad?

Pro Tip: The fine print is your

Clockwise, from above: mailing from Pennsylvanians for

Accountability, screenshots from the Kentucky Opportunity
Coalition & Patriot Majority USA.

Whats in a name?
Has someone else written about it?
Does the group have a website?
IF YES, who registered the website? WHOIS

Social media presence?

Active on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube,

WHOIS lookup
Sometimes useful. Sometimes a
dead end.

What type of group is it?

501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit
Labor union
527 committee


Super PAC

501(c)(6) business league

Federal PACs & super PACs

Search on ---> statement of organization

Federal PACs & super PACs

Donations & expenditures also regularly reported to FEC

Federal PACs & super PACs

State-level PACs
Search Secretary of States websites

527 committees
Some political committees report to
the IRS

Labor unions
Unions must regularly report to the Dept. of Labor

LM-2 filings

501(c)(4)s & 501(c)(6)s

Social welfare nonprofits & business leagues
file annual reports with the IRS called Form
990s. Some also file applications for taxexempt status called Form 1024s.
You can get them from
The IRS, though you have to fax or mail requests
The groups themselves
Other organizations, like GuideStar, Foundation
Center and CitizenAudit

IRS Form 1024

Can provide a glimpse behind the curtain in terms of a groups planned
activities, budget, board members and sometimes anticipated donors
Easiest way to obtain: Fax the IRS on your orgs letterhead: 1-513-2635900, including the name, address and EIN number of group(s)

IRS Form 990s

Filed annually. Detail groups activities.

IRS Form 990s (cont.)

GuideStar, Foundation Center, CitizenAudit
help make 990s more accessible

IRS Master File

Quick way to find a

nonprofits EIN
number, address,
contact name &
date it received
tax-exempt status

State incorporation records

Where is the nonprofit based?
How frequently must it file reports with that
Articles of incorporation on file?
Note of caution: Some states (e.g., DE & WY)
have very limited amounts of info available.

FCC records
Each TV station maintains online
political files regarding advertisers.

Center for Public Integrity tools

Other resources
Organizations like the Center for Responsive
Politics, National Institute on Money in State
Politics and Sunlight Foundation make
campaign finance data more user-friendly

Tip sheet:
Michael Beckel
Reporter, Center for Public Integrity