By Jordan Muller, OpenSecrets.org
The Treasury Department announced Monday that it will no longer require certain nonprofit organizations to disclose identifying information about their donors to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The policy change, which Treasury Department officials say will save public and government resources and prevent the accidental release of confidential information, will allow politically active nonprofits to pour anonymous “dark money” into elections with even less government oversight than they already face.
Groups impacted by the move include the National Rifle Association (NRA), Planned Parenthood, the Koch-aligned Americans for Prosperity and labor unions. Those organizations are commonly referred to as “dark money” groups because they are not required to publicly disclose the sources of funding that has been used to support political causes.
501(c)(3) and 527 organizations are not covered by the policy change and will still be required to report information about their donors to the IRS.
The IRS’s announcement came the same day a Russian national was arrested for allegedly trying to use connections in the NRA to influence US politics. Though the agent was not charged with using foreign money to sway elections, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said the IRS’s decision would make it easier for foreign donors to illegally funnel money into US races.
Wyden said he would not vote for President Donald Trump’s nominee for IRS commissioner, Charles Rettig, unless Rettig promised to reinstate the disclosure requirements. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote on Rettig’s nomination on Thursday.
All nonprofits must continue to disclose their form 990s and limited donor information to the public upon request, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Monday. Observers can view the size and number of individual donations in form 990’s “schedule B” section, but the names and addresses of those donors are often redacted.
The IRS acknowledged in its statement announcing the change that it had sometimes accidentally released confidential donor information. In 2013, the IRS posted unredacted tax forms revealing donors to the nonprofit Republican Governors Association Public Policy Committee, the Center for Public Integrity reported at the time.
Dark money groups themselves mistakenly provided observers with unredacted schedule B forms. In April, OpenSecrets was provided an unredacted schedule B form showing that megadonor Robert Mercer wrote a $2 million check to Secure America Now, a secretive group that worked with Facebook and Google to target swing voters with anti-Muslim ads.