by Justin Elliott, ProPublica.
Some of the nation’s biggest corporations donated more than a million dollars to launch a Republican nonprofit that went on to play a key role in recent political fights.
A records request by ProPublica to the IRS turned up a list of the original funders of the group: Exxon, Pfizer, Time Warner, and other corporations put up at least 85 percent of the $1.3 million the foundation raised in the first year and a half of its existence, starting in 2003.
The donor list is stamped “not for public disclosure,” and was submitted to the IRS as part of the foundation’s application for recognition of tax-exempt status. If approved, such applications are public records.
The foundation and other similar nonprofits are allowed to take anonymous and unlimited donations from individuals or corporations. That’s because they are classified as “social welfare” nonprofits, which are supposed to benefit the community at large, and not just one group or political party.
Last year, we reported how the State Government Leadership Foundation paid for Republican redistricting consultants to draw new congressional district maps in North Carolina. The resulting gerrymander helped flip the state’s congressional delegation to Republicans.
In recent years, the SGLF has also funded TV ads targeting Democrats during the 2011 Wisconsin showdown over collective bargaining rights; attacking President Obama in Virginia over his energy policy; and accusing teachers’ unions of “destroying our children’s future.”
The group also gave $1.25 million in 2011 to the Indiana Opportunity Fund, a state-level nonprofit that ran anti-union ads featuring Republican governor Mitch Daniels. (That group was founded by attorney Jim Bopp, who has long fought against campaign finance regulation.)
The single-biggest early donor to the foundation was the now-defunct mortgage lender Ameriquest, which gave more than $260,000. (We contacted a number of the companies on the list; they did not respond to requests for comment.) Corporate trade associations including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Edison Electric Institute, and the American Tort Reform Association also pitched in, each giving between $50,000 and $100,000.
The foundation’s affiliated organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee, focuses on winning state-level elections for the GOP and also gets corporate money, including from tobacco and insurance giants. As an explicitly political organization, the committee has to disclose its donors.