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A: The Sunlight Foundation, which monitors the influence of outside money on public policy, noted that Obama spun off his campaign organization, Obama for America, into a 501(c)(4) group called Organizing for America, which recently ran a media campaign to influence 13 members of Congress to support stronger background checks for gun purchases.
Last year, the IRS denied the status for the Democratic Party-leaning Emerge America for being too involved in partisan interests. Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)(4) founded by former George W. Bush political strategist Karl C. Rove and others, has had its tax-exempt status questioned by some Democrats and transparency advocates.
Q: How much money are these nonprofits spending on campaigns?
A: According to the Center for Responsive Politics, conservative groups spent more than $263 million in the 2012 campaign season. Liberal groups spent close to $35 million. An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Responsive Politics found that, in 2010, nonprofits outspent super PACs by a 3-2 ratio.
Q: What’s the difference between a super PAC and these social-welfare groups?
A: The big difference is super PACs have to disclose donors and the 501(c)(4) groups do not.
Q: Why have 501(c)(4) applications increased recently?
A: In 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision made it possible for corporations and labor unions to raise and spend as much as they wanted on campaigns, and lifted restrictions on making those contributions to 501(c)(4) groups.