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Why We Removed the Form 990 PDFs From Nonprofit Explorer

Last month, we removed links to download Form 990 document PDFs from our Nonprofit Explorer interactive database.

Update, Feb. 3, 2015: Nonprofit Explorer’s Form 990 PDF links have been restored; ProPublica now hosts the files and the Internet Archive hosts copies of the data suitable for bulk download. Read more here.

Late last month, we removed links to download Form 990 document PDFs from our Nonprofit Explorer interactive database. These files had been hosted by Public.Resource.Org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making public documents freely available, including building codes and nonprofit filings until the organization took them offline pending resolution of a dispute with the IRS.

In removing the documents, Carl Malamud, the founder of Public.Resource.Org, cited disagreements with the Internal Revenue Service regarding the price that the IRS charges for digital copies to the documents ($2,910 per year, according to Malamud), the IRS' refusal to publish raw data for electronically filed ("e-filed") tax returns, as well as legal and privacy issues in the IRS's failure to redact Social Security Numbers erroneously included in Form 990 filings.

According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Public.Resource.Org is also moving forward with a lawsuit against the IRS, charging that the IRS is required, under the Freedom of Information Act, to publish machine-readable copies of nonprofit filings. The suit states that e-filed tax returns are already stored in such a format at the IRS, but the IRS contends such files are excluded from disclosure requirements. A federal judge denied an IRS request to dismiss the case last month.

Portrait of Mike Tigas

Mike Tigas

Mike Tigas was the Lead Product Developer, DevOps and Security at ProPublica. He is also the developer of Tabula, a data extraction tool for PDF files, and Onion Browser, an open source web browser for iOS which uses the Tor anonymity network.

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