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“Social Welfare” non-profits, or 501(c)(4)s, have existed for nearly a century but in the last decade they’ve rapidly transformed America’s political landscape, empowering shadowy tax-exempt organizations to shape elections without ever naming their donors. These groups must be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” but that definition is hazy at best, which means they can spend millions to advocate for or against issues and candidates.

Bureaucrats at the IRS recently apologized for targeting groups with “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in the title that were applying for 501(c)(4) status. For some strange reason, the IRS had a suspicion these groups might have a partisan agenda. An IRS Inspector General’s report expected soon will likely add fuel to the fuming anger coming from Republican politicians about what they call an egregious abuse of power.

The New Republic‘s Alec MacGillis explains that the real scandal is how the IRS wasted its precious resources on these groups:

At the same time it was sending long questionnaires to groups like a Tea Party outfit in Waco, the IRS was doing precious little to rein in the groups that were making a true mockery of the law on 501(c)(4)s—outfits like Crossroads GPS, the organization co-founded by Karl Rove that spent $71 million last year. This spending was undeniably geared toward influencing the 2012 election but, unlike regular SuperPACs such as its sister group American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS was not required to disclose the source of the funds. All told, the 501(c)(4)s spent $254 million in last year’s election, nearly three times what they spent in 2010. And yes, most of this spending was on behalf of the Republican side.

Here are five right-wing “social welfare” non-profits that are obviously only interested in social welfare.

Photo: artbyheather via Flickr.com

Americans For Prosperity

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Founded by David Koch in 2004, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) reportedly funneled as much as $200 million to help Republicans rebrand as the Tea Party and retake the House in 2010, with AFP branches in several states. The group went on to help Scott Walker avoid a recall but was far less successful in the 2012 elections. Since then it’s changed its leadership and continues to push “social welfare” messages like “the sequester will help the economy.”

Photo: markn3tel via Flickr.com

Crossroads GPS

Karl Rove

“Without a doubt, the attempt by billionaires and corporations to buy our democracy with unlimited secret cash was the biggest scandal of the year, and Karl Rove was the poster child for that effort,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington noted as it named Crossroads GPS its 2012 “Scoundrel of the Year.”

Photo: Carol H. Feeley via Flickr Creative Commons

Republican Jewish Coalition

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Chaired by Sheldon Adelson, who was likely the largest single donor in the 2012 election cycle, The Republican Jewish Coalition serves the welfare of this nation by insinuating that Jewish Democrats hate Israel.

Photo: Republican Jewish Coalition Facebook Page

Americans For Tax Reform

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Who’s more interested in “social welfare” than the man who said he wanted government to be small enough to drown it in a bathtub? Norquist’s group Americans For Tax Reform makes sure that humble makers of cigarettes will always have a voice in Washington, D.C.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file

American Future Fund

“On the very day in 2008 that the American Future Fund mailed its application to the IRS — checking the box for “no” on whether it planned to participate in politics —  it uploaded an ad to YouTube praising a Republican senator,” reports Pro Publica’s Kim Baker.

The group recently released an ad filled with regular folk supporting Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) for opposing expanded background checks. But all the “folk” turned out to be Republican activists.

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Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

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