You Can’t Tell ‘Em Apart without a Scorecard: The Partisan Nonprofit World

Print Share on LinkedIn More

July 28, 2011; Source: Los Angeles Times | Their television ads are ubiquitous more common than those obnoxious GEICO and Progressive insurance ads, and frequently competitively obnoxious. They are the tax-exempt 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations that get to engage in partisan political activity (using less than half of their assets) in support or opposition to specific candidates so long as they aren’t coordinating their messages with the candidates’ ones. Imagine: 501(c)(4)s coordinating their messages with candidate messaging. Preposterous! 

So, when the public hears of “nonprofit” entities paying for some of the political ads you see with stupefyingly inane political messages of the left, right, and unknown, here’s some of the 501(c)(4)s that may be creating the nonprofit smoke and mirrors:

  • GrassTopsUSA is a politically conservative 501(c)(4) that prefers fax blasts to television ads. GrassTops quotes a disgusted Rush Limbaugh trying to understand House Speaker John Boehner, in an obvious attack on Republicans’ negotiations with the White House on the debt ceiling and budget cuts.
  • Former New York Governor George Pataki is using the No American Debt 501(c)(4) as his platform for speaking out against both President Obama’s health insurance reform and the national budget deficit.
  • Patriot Majority USA is a new Democratic 501(c)(4) running ads in Missouri attacking Republicans in response to Republican ads attacking Senator Claire McCaskill’s reelection bid. Its TV spot tells Missourians that the Republican plan is “No to Medicare. No to seniors.”
  • In Montana, a Colorado-based 501(c)(4) called the American Tradition Partnership has been attacking “environmental extremism” and defending poor ExxonMobil for its efforts to clean up a pipeline spill.

So please explain the political agenda of the 501(c)(4) Miss Kentucky Scholarship Organization, which describes itself as a “non-profit” (with the hyphen). Thank you very much.-Rick Cohen


  • rick cohen

    Just as an addendum to the bipartisan nature of this dynamic, CNN reports today ( that 5 Super PACs account for 86 percent of the $26 million that Super PACs raised in the first half of 2011: Majority PAC (to elect Democratic senators), the Democratic American Bridge 21st Century (also for Democratic senatorial campaigns), Priorities USA Action (Democratic), American Crossroads (Rove’s Republican apparatus), and, topping the list, Mitt Romney’s Restore Our Future. Again, we don’t know exactly what their affiliated 501(c)(4) entities have been taking in in the first half of the year. If there were more comprehensive campaign finance reform or perhaps real public financing of national campaigns, would this make more money available for nonprofits? Does money going to politics diminish the potential funding that might be generated for nonprofits?

  • JL

    I used to see and hear about the “Just $6” campaign for public financing. I liked to premise that it would cost each American just $6 to fund elections so we could eliminate the need for politicians to focus on fund raising and donors rather than the problems at hand. The issues we are dealing with in the world are too big for the politicians not to deal with them. When I hear politicians say their GOAL is to ensure the President fails, rather than work with all involved to create solid policy I cringe. Their GOAL should not be to win power but to create the best policies they can.

    I found Just $6 has now re-branded and you can find information about the organization and their efforts here at if you are interested in joining others to fight for REAL reform in campaign finance.