Training: Unraveling Political Nonprofits’ Spending

by May 14, 2014

Photo by Nick Ares

“Shadow Money: Unraveling Political Nonprofits’ Spending” was originally held on May 14, 2014.

Politics is a big business. Not only is big money publicly shelled out to get candidates elected, but hundreds of millions are spent on a secret political game – the shadow money world dominated by mysterious, politically active nonprofits. These groups take advantage of loopholes in the Internal Revenue Service’s rule book to build complex webs of entities – linked together by money – to win political races and keep the source of the money secret.

During this free, one-hour session from the Reynolds Center and the Center for Responsive Politics, you’ll learn where to find how this money is being spent on the issues important to your beat and how to begin unraveling the web of organizations behind it all. This training will touch on the basics of IRS and Federal Election Commission oversight and how these nonprofits stay under the radar.


  • How the Citizens United decision in 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court allowed not only for-profit corporations and labor unions, but also politically active nonprofits, to flood unlimited amounts of money into the political system.
  • How politically active nonprofits, which spent $336 million on federal campaigns alone in 2012, operate under and outside the radar of the IRS and FEC, spending secret donor money from the federal to the local level.
  • What clues to look for when tracking a politically active nonprofit. This includes what key information on 990 forms, incorporation documents and disclosure forms will be most helpful in your reporting.
Russ Choma, reporter with American University's Investigative Reporting Workshop

Russ Choma,


Russ Choma is the money-in-politics reporter at the Center for Responsive Politics’ His work has appeared in several publications including the Investigative Reporting Workshop, Nieman Watchdog, Politics Daily, and His series, “Blown Away: Tracking stimulus grants for renewable energy,” found that more than 80 percent of the first $1 billion in grants to wind-energy companies went to foreign firms, and many renewable-energy projects that received stimulus cash were built well before President Obama was even inaugurated.


Review the session materials below to track the spending trail of political nonprofits.

Session recording

PowerPoint presentation