Journalism in the Public Interest

Dark Money Group Told IRS It Wouldn’t Be Political—Then Spent $1 Million on Campaign Ads

New details emerge about the Government Integrity Fund, which has run ads attacking Sen. Sherrod Brown in the Ohio U.S. Senate race.

A May 20, 2008, image from Josh Mandel's Flickr page, with the caption, "With my District Director Jonathan Petrea in front of my worn-out door knocking shoes that hang on the wall of my Statehouse office." Last year, Petrea did work for the Government Integrity Fund, an outside group supporting Mandel in his U.S. Senate race.

A dark money nonprofit group that has run more than $1 million in ads in the Ohio race for U.S. Senate told the IRS last year it did not plan to spend any money to influence elections when it applied for recognition of its tax-exempt status. 

ProPublica first reported on the group, the Government Integrity Fund, after information from television station political ad files became available online (see our Free the Files project), showing extensive spending by the Fund.

The group’s filings with the IRS  illustrate how “social welfare” nonprofits, also known as 501(c)(4)s, are playing an aggressive role in this election, pouring tens of millions of dollars into races around the country, while taking advantage of the donor anonymity their tax status provides.

The Fund applied for IRS recognition last December and received the IRS’ approval less than two months later.

Question 15 on the application asks, “Has the organization spent or does it plan to spend any money attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any person to any Federal, state, or local public office or to an office in a political organization?”

Much hinges on this: Under the tax code, social welfare nonprofits may not have political campaign activity as their primary purpose, though exactly what that means is a subject of much debate.

Fund chairman Tom Norris, who signed the Fund’s application, checked the “No” box on Question 15.

In a statement to ProPublica, the Fund said that “legally, the concept of ‘influencing elections’ has been narrowly defined” and that “throughout its existence, [the Fund] has regularly consulted with experienced tax counsel to ensure it is in full compliance with the federal tax laws.” (See the full statement.) Norris, a Columbus lobbyist, did not respond to calls.

Ads paid for by the Fund, which ran through the summer, praised Republican Josh Mandel and attacked Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. One spot features Mandel telling a veterans group, “I think this campaign is all about the past versus the future.” A voiceover chimes in: “Josh Mandel served our country with two tours in Iraq. Now he’s fighting for taxpayers, fighting for our future.”

There are several reasons groups may prefer answering “No” to Question 15. Those answering “Yes” are instructed to explain in detail and list the amounts to be spent, which can lead to scrutiny that slows down the IRS approval process, tax experts say.

“Checking yes is a yellow flag for the IRS, which likely would cause the IRS to refer the application to an agent for consideration and follow-up questions,” said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, an expert in nonprofit tax law at the University of Notre Dame law school. “There could be donors saying, ‘I’m not comfortable giving to you until I know you are a 501(c)(4) and my identity is protected. So I want that IRS [approval] letter.’”

The Fund’s IRS application did provide other clues about its intentions. In one section of the form, the Fund said its budget for 2011 was $78,000. It then projected a budget of $6.7 million for 2012, an election year, before going back down to $50,000 for 2013, a nonelection year.

Mayer said the IRS typically wouldn’t scrutinize a group’s spending until it files a tax return — and in the case of the Fund, the return covering 2012 could be filed as late as November 2013. If the IRS found that the Fund was improperly taking advantage of its status as a social welfare group, it could impose a fine and make the group operate as a political organization that does have to report donors.

The group’s application for IRS recognition was signed under penalty of perjury, but Mayer said it was rare for the agency to pursue charges against an applicant for lying.

The IRS did not respond to a request for comment.

The Fund’s application for tax-exempt status also sheds a bit more light on who is running the group. It names four men as board members, including Norris. Another of the board members, Jeffrey L. Dean, referred questions to Jonathan Petrea, who was campaign manager and district director for Mandel when he ran for the state legislature.

Petrea told ProPublica he had no official role in the Fund, but helped Norris find potential board members.

“I was just doing a guy a favor by putting him in touch with people who might be interested,” Petrea said.

Norris and the Mandel campaign did not respond to questions about Petrea’s relationship to the Fund or the candidate.

Petrea was also previously Ohio grassroots director for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative 501(c)(4) backed by the Koch brothers, and has recently done work for Energy Citizens, a group advocating oil and gas development. 

The Fund’s ads have been off the air since Sept. 6, according to the Brown campaign. (After that date, certain types of ad spending had to be reported to the Federal Election Commission.)

The group’s attorney, William Todd, said he doesn’t know about its plans “for future education efforts.”

Outside groups are spending hundreds of millions to influence the coming elections. Help unlock outside spending by "freeing" political ad buys from television stations in swing markets.

I’m actually a lot more concerned about the actual web of groups funded by George Soros and would be interested in seeing this kind of scrutiny. Do you plan on doing a similar in depth look of the Soros media empire soon?

Joe Biden's Brain

Oct. 4, 2012, 3:29 p.m.

Sorry, Ellie.  It’s a one way street.  Investigating Soros would be too close to home.

Who financed the debacle in Denver, where ‘The Amateur” got his
lying ass kicked?

Gosh, people trying to manipulate the election…lied!?

Ellie, ProPublica doesn’t have a license to perform and publish research.  If you want to follow the same process for creepy Soros, it’ll find an audience.  I’m not sure why your “lot more concern” should direct ProPublica from their interests.

Or is this just a “fairness doctrine” thing, where you consider these facts “liberal,” so “conservative” facts need equal time because Rush said they should?

Seriously, I think Soros is as creepy as they come, myself, but the records are open for anybody who wants to do the work.  The number of people who claim to do the work but don’t should be telling…

“Fund chairman Tom Norris, who signed the Fund’s application, checked the “No” box on Question 15. Norris, a Columbus lobbyist, did not respond to calls.”

I look to hear more regarding this attempt for another stolen election…

Where are the attorneys? Why isn’t our (WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) voice in democracy being protected? This anonymous donor crap, in a bogus 501(c) (4) organization could probably be easily argued and won in a public universities business law class.  Follow the paper trail of money…a kindergartener could tell you the number in 2012 is bigger than 2011 and what is estimated for 2013. Sesame Street could help too because, “one of these things IS NOT LIKE THE OTHER, one of these numbers just doesn’t belong!!!

Who can we contact to push the IRS into doing something about this and the other Super Pacs, whose only reason for being is to sway elections but they lie about it?  Which Congressional committee(s) are in charge of the IRS?  Who does the director report to?  Thanks.

George Soros has the integrity to follow the law, and he doesn’t try to hide his feelings nor hide what he supports.  I guess that bothers some people who just don’t want a few of the those with substantial money, in supporting the Democratic Party. 

The Republican Party has numerous people with Big Bucks$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$, who support their corporate minions.  And to think that this party, in the l950’s, when my parents supported it, actually had some integrity.

Follow the money.  $$$$$$$$$

Ha ha.

“George Soros and his secret web is stealing the electioon!”

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).  Here’s a thought: Put down the Fox Brand Delusion Juice & join reality.

If you can’t deal with the fact that a group that swore under perjury that it’s not going to influenc elections has a budget of $6.7 million in 2012 then stick your head in the sand & vote for Romney, just like every other uninformed voter…

Ellie & Joe Biden’s Brain,
It doesn’t matter if it were a liberal or conservative group that was exposed.  What matters is that it was exposed!

Corruption and malfeasance needs to be exposed and cut out. If you’re a conservative, do you want the politicians representing you using such methods to win office? I hope not.

Instead of trying to shift the attention away, why not decry this kind of tactic and demand those guilty to pay the price?

The money is just a small part of the problem—— it’s the stealing of elections in Florida and Ohio by the Republican operatives which have given us 2wo stolen Presidential elections.

Google:    Greg Palast stolen elections

Somehow the media finds it inconvenient to report what Greg Palast has researched.  When he called them on it, the media called the Republican Party operatives who denied his documented research.


As Palast says in his introduction:  “...people just don’t give a s—t.”

For the most part, most U.S. citizens who vote, just seem to think that the voting is all that counts, never willing to consider that it’s who counts the vote that COUNTS.  The electronic voting machines allow all the easier ability to steal elections -  there are no nasty chads to deal with.

Here in New York State, we vote on PAPER.  And the reason that we vote on paper is because of the four or five year efforts of one person:
Bo Lipari.  He spent these years going all about the state lobbying people and politicians about the ease of theft with the electronic machines. 

Do you know what is going on inside your computer???
Do you know what is going on inside your electronic voting machine??

Do you know how the voting compilers work??

Google:  black box voting

Democracy demands attention and care from the citizens to maintain it, and lounging behind the TV screen, and going to sporting events rather than to town meetings and knocking on doors and informing yourself through reliable sources of information, is an absolute need, for the system to work. 

This is the best novel: your life in the midst of this situation; so put the escapist book novels aside; put the escapist movies aside, and join the reality that is your living life.  Save heaven, such as it is in various imaginations, for another day. 

The amazing quality is being alive, and living it. 

Be here now, yup.

People seem worried about Soros, but I do not see any complaints about Koch’s or Adelson (who is also wreaking havoc in Israel) There really is no balance in this discussion.

clarence swinney

Oct. 7, 2012, 10:14 a.m.


1945-1980, we taxed Wealth to pay down wwii debt.
It will be necessary to pay down Conservative 15,000B Debt most incurred since 1980 by Conservatives.

Reagan not Congress submitted 8 budgets
Total-over 7000 Billion for 8 years.
Prior 50 years we spent 6066 Billion
Congress cut his total dollars requested by small amount.
Reagan whined his budgets were dead on arrival
All presidents budgets are adjusted in Congress.

Carter last budget spent 575B and ended with a debt of 917B

Reagan cut revenue by 750B across the board income tax cut.
Larry Speakes his OMB director wrote in his book “Speaking out”
the tax cut was a trojan horse to coverup Reagan 60% cut for the richest

The 750B individual “income” tax cut increased “income” tax revenues by 140 Billion.
That tax cut certainly did not pay for itself.

Reagan Record
Increased spending by 80%-deficits by 110% and debt by 189%
He cut Carter 218,000 per month job growth by 24%

Bush II
Increased spending by 90%—debt by 112% (doubled)—deficit from surplus to 1400B
Worst job creation since Hoover—31,000 per month—2 dumb wars—
Since 1980 three Conservative presidents increased spending from 575B to 3500B(less wjc itsy bitsy)
Deficit from surplus to 1400B—Debt from 1000B to 10,000B—Jobs from Carter 218,000 per month to 99,000. Initiated our involvement in 10 foreign conflicts.

Is Romney a repeat?

clarence swinney

Oct. 8, 2012, 8:42 a.m.

lies or?
ROMNEY Habitual liar or what?
A.“I don’t have a 5 trillion tax cut”
Tax Policy center shows the price tag at 360B first year and 5T over a decade
“23M out of work”
Official 12.5M plus 2.6M stopped looking. He used 8 million pat time workers

B.“Obamacare board tells people what king of treatments they can have”
The board has no authority to dictate the practices.

C. “My proposal would guarantee coverage on pre-existing conditions”
If one had to drop coverage insurance companies could continue to discriminate and deny new coverage.

D. “You don’t increase taxes in a recession”
Obama effort to take away tax cut over $250,000 was considered an increase. Obama tried after the recession had officially ended. Obama gave 96% of workers a tax cut.
Obama Medicare tax hike would not kick in until 2013.

E.  “20 million will lose coverage under Obamacare”
Many of those will be leaving employer coverage voluntarily for the better options.

F.  “you took 716B out of Medicare”
That number refers to the money saved primarily through reducing over payments to insurance
companies under Medicare Advantage , not payments to beneficiaries.

G “Health care costs have gone up by $2500 per family”
Actual is $1700 most of which was absorbed by employers and only a small part is attributable to the health care law

H “All the increase in natural gas and oil happened on private land”
The number of drilling permits on federal lands decreased between 29 and 27% not the 50% stated by Romney

I..“My economic plan will not lower tax rates on rich people”
Think Progress affords details. Taxpayers with more than $200,000 income would certainly see a tax cut and everyone else—95%—will see taxes increase.

Clarence, You must re-educate your self!  Congress, not Presidents, pass budgets and spend money. All money Bill are generated by the House. During the last 50 years, early 1960’s to present - 80% of the responsibility for out of control spending belongs to Democrats. And 80% of election violations is a result of Democrat illegal activities.

Your Outline above is a total farce, I’m surprised you took the time to type it out! Items A - I are the garbage right out of the ‘Progressives’ list of lies and other diatribe - Now adopted by the DNC.

At least make an effort to disguise your B==L S-=T!

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Free the Files

Free the Files

Outside groups are spending hundreds of millions to influence the coming elections. Help unlock outside spending by "freeing" political ad buys from television stations in swing markets.

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