i9 Fact Checker: Some groups airing political ads don’t disclose donors

Published: Aug. 11, 2022 at 7:48 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Two of the three groups airing political advertisements on TV9 are Social Welfare Organizations, also known as a 501(c)(4).

These groups don’t have to disclose their donors to the public, which makes it difficult to track the people or groups behind political messaging. According to Open Secrets, which is a nonprofit tracking campaign spending, these groups must spend less than half of their resources on political activities.

Both Winning for Women, Inc. and Unrig Our Economy, are spending more than $1 Million on political advertisements.

Although Unrig Our Economy said it is nonpartisan, it is airing an advertisement critical of Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (R-01). The advertisement is specifically critical of Rep. Hinson’s votes on a price cap for Insulin prices and medicare’s ability to cover hearing aids.

Tim Hagle, who is a political science professor at the University of Iowa, said Social Welfare Organizations call themselves nonpartisan to keep their tax-exempt status. He also said these groups might not align with a political party, but have a political ideology.

“They’re not partisan in the sense they are specifically Democratic or Republican, but they clearly have an ideological point of view,” Hagle said. “So it’s always a little deceptive.”

He also said these types of groups can run advertisements, which aren’t directly associated with a candidate or party.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes to protect the parties, the candidates and also to allow these other groups to attack,” Hagle said.

He said these groups are becoming more popular because it’s difficult to understand the origin behind their funding and therefore protect donors from the potential backlash against donating to a cause or candidate.

Unrig Our Economy has local chapters across the United States with almost identical websites including New York City, Iowa, California, and Nebraska.

Megan Goldberg, who is a political science professor at Cornell College, said this is similar to the lobbying group called the United States Chamber of Commerce with state and local chapters. She said those groups usually donate to Republican candidates, but don’t have to call themselves partisan for tax purposes because the party structure in the United States is indirect.

“The party structure doesn’t have real membership,” Goldberg said. “We don’t pay dues to be a member of the party. The party organization is kind of itself.”

She said similar groups include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association.

Some groups, like Winning For Women, are more transparent about their partisanship lean. The group, which has the goal of promoting women to public office, said it specifically supports right-of-center candidates on its’ website.

It is also currently airing an advertisement in two Iowa congressional districts, where both major party candidates are women.

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