In Defense of "Dark Money"

In Defense of "Dark Money"
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

On May 10, 2013, Lois Lerner, then a senior IRS official, took a planted question from the audience at a meeting of the American Bar Association. Lerner, who managed the office of tax-exempt organizations, revealed that an audit of IRS practices showed that since 2010, some nonprofit organizations applying for tax-exempt status had been singled out for deeper scrutiny simply based on the name of the organization and what that indicated about its political orientation.

The revelation set off a firestorm of controversy in the media, Congress, and conservative organizations, especially since news reports indicated that Tea Party–linked groups were the main targets of the probes. Lerner's bombshell subjected the IRS to intense criticism, but her revelations also spotlighted the broader issue of the legitimacy and behavior of nonprofit groups known as “social welfare” organizations, or 501(c)(4)s, shorthand for the section of the tax code that defines these groups.

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