CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) — Two of the three groups running political ads on TV9 are social welfare organizations, also known as 501(c)(4).
These groups do not have to disclose their donors to the public, making it difficult to track the people or groups behind political messages. According to Open Secrets, which is a nonprofit campaign expense tracking organization, these groups must spend less than half of their resources on political activities.
Winning for Women, Inc. and Unrig Our Economy spend over $1 million on political ads.
Although Unrig Our Economy has said it is nonpartisan, it is running an ad criticizing Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (R-01). The ad specifically criticizes Rep. Hinson’s votes on an insulin price cap and Medicare’s ability to cover hearing aids.
Tim Hagle, who is a professor of political science at the University of Iowa, said welfare organizations say they are nonpartisan to keep their tax-exempt status. He also said that these groups might not align with a political party, but have a political ideology.
“They’re not partisan in the sense that they’re specifically Democrats or Republicans, but they clearly have an ideological point of view,” Hagle said. “So it’s still a bit misleading.”
He also said these types of groups may run advertisements, which are not directly associated with any candidate or party.
“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to protect parties, candidates and also to allow these other groups to attack,” Hagle said.
He said such groups are becoming increasingly popular because it is difficult to understand where their funding is coming from and therefore to protect donors from potential backlash against donations to a cause or candidate.
Unrig Our Economy has local chapters across the United States with nearly identical websites, including New York, Iowa, California, and Nebraska.
Megan Goldberg, who is a professor of political science at Cornell College, said it resembled the lobby group called the United States Chamber of Commerce with state and local chapters. She said these groups typically donate to Republican candidates but don’t have to call themselves supporters for tax purposes because the party structure in the United States is indirect.
“The party structure has no real members,” Goldberg said. “We don’t pay membership fees to be party members. The party organization is a 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 partisan leanings. The group, which aims to promote women to public office, said it specifically supports centre-right candidates on its website.
It is also currently running an ad in two congressional districts in Iowa, where the party’s two leading candidates are women.
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