We are excited to participate in this collaborative effort with the Center for Responsive Politics, and are hugely grateful to the Knight Foundation for generously providing funding to research this important topic. By combining CRP’s expertise in nonpartisan money-in-politics data with GuideStar's extensive information on nonprofits, we hope to expand the amount of political financial information available to donors and illuminate the topic of dark money. ~ Gabe Cohen, Media and Outreach Manager, GuideStar
The Center for Responsive Politics is delighted to announce that it has been awarded $525,000 as a winner of the Knight News Challenge on Elections. The award will enable CRP to vastly expand the amount of information available to voters on politically active nonprofit organizations that don’t disclose their donors’ identities.
An initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Knight News Challenge on Elections sought ideas to better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections.
Knight funding will support a partnership between two organizations that are preeminent in their respective fields: CRP in nonpartisan money-in-politics data and analysis, and GuideStar in data on nonprofits. The partnership will allow retrieval of greater volumes of information more quickly and comprehensively, enabling CRP to better investigate and inform reporters and the public about outlays by “dark money” nonprofits (mainly 501(c)(4) groups). Spending by these groups rose from $6 million in 2004 to $309 million in 2012 and promises to keep growing.
The IRS does not provide relevant financial data for the organizations responsible for this spending, making it nearly impossible to track their activities on a large scale over time. For three years, CRP has sought to fill the data vacuum by hand-entering tens of thousands of records from thousands of annual tax filings submitted to the IRS by politically active nonprofits and their known donors. The financial information is matched up with additional data from the Federal Election Commission.
The result is the only data in existence that gives a contextualized picture of how politically active nonprofits operate in American elections – but it has been limited by the resources available for digitizing the filings. Now, with access to GuideStar’s comprehensive database of digitized 501(c) tax filings, CRP will be able to largely scale back its manual work creating data and shift to the important task of finding and investigating political actors and making the information clear, accessible and meaningful to the users who come to us for information about how money is influencing the elections. CRP will not only offer new ways to understand these organizations’ activities, but will use the vastly expanded data to discover new networks and provide additional analysis of “dark money” activities over time, such as how vendors are profiting from the nonprofit political economy.
“This new partnership with GuideStar will flip the paradigm for dark money research,” said Robert Maguire, who leads CRP’s efforts on political nonprofits. “We’ll now have access to the full universe of digitized 990 data for tens of thousands of 501(c) organizations. This will lead not only to new discoveries but also to new tools and analysis we can provide to users interested in holding candidates and political operatives accountable.”
The goal of CRP and GuideStar is to launch an improved website at the end of 2015. Journalists covering the 2016 elections, including CRP’s own staff, will find this an essential resource for investigation and reporting that helps educate the public about dark money spenders and networks.
Both CRP and GuideStar believe that informed, engaged communities with access to the right tools arrive at the best decisions about their future. In that spirit, CRP and GuideStar are coming together as respected and recognized experts in their fields to ensure that, ultimately, voters have the facts they need to make an informed decision about how to cast their ballots.
“The Center for Responsive Politics is proud of its work to illuminate dark money,” said CRP Executive Director Sheila Krumholz. “We’re excited to expand on it by collaborating with a partner as distinguished as GuideStar, and we’re enormously grateful to the Knight Foundation for its recognition of, and generous support for, this important and timely project.”
“By uncovering the sources of campaign funding, this partnership will help to bring more transparency to elections and help citizens better understand what happens behind the scenes,” said John Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for media innovation.
“GuideStar has the most comprehensive data on nonprofit organizations in the U.S. We are always looking for ways to combine this data with outside expertise. That’s why partnerships like this are so important to us,” said GuideStar President and CEO Jacob Harold. “CRP has deep knowledge about the role of nonprofits in politics and we’re thrilled they can leverage our data to expand their work. A robust democracy demands openness; this is a step in the right direction.”
A second CRP project, Prompt Data Query was also one of 22 winning projects of the Knight News Challenge on Elections; it will receive $35,000 in funding through the Knight Prototype Fund, which supports early-stage ideas. Prompt Data Query aims to bring more transparency and accountability to elections through an automated, interactive tool that will help journalists dig independently into money-in-politics data.
The Knight News Challenge on Elections is funding breakthrough ideas that better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections. More at www.newschallenge.org.
The Center for Responsive Politics works to inform citizens about how money in politics affects their lives, empower voters and activists by providing unbiased information and advocate for a transparent and responsive government.
Guidestar aims to revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving.
The preceding is a cross-post from the Center for Responsive Politic's July 22nd blog article of the same title. To read the original article, click here. Washington reporter Viveca Novak joined the Center in December 2011 as editorial and communications director; her duties include running the OpenSecrets Blog, fielding press inquiries and developing media partnerships. Previously, Viveca was deputy director of FactCheck.org and a Washington correspondent for Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal. She has won a number of journalism awards, including Harvard's Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. In 2014, she was awarded, with colleague Robert Maguire, the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service in Online Journalism for a series of stories published on OpenSecrets Blog. In 2005, she co-authored a book, Inside the Wire, about the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo. Viveca has a degree in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University; in addition, she completed a Fellowship in Law for Journalists at Yale Law School.
Press contact: Viveca Novak, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-354-0111