By Renee Irvin.

Transparency is important in politics: voters need to know who’s paying for the policy agenda-setting, the TV and radio ads, and so on. The ever-growing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few creates a self-reinforcing cycle of political power that tips decision-making away from the democratic influence of the broader public.

In the US, the donor-anonymity structures for social-welfare organizations (or “501c4 organizations,” as they’re known) mean that the American nonprofit sector enables high-net-worth donors, whether individual or corporate, to fund political activity anonymously.

I see this as an ethical concern for the sector. We shouldn’t be agnostic toward its helping wealthy donors sidestep democratic processes.

To address this, the identities of large donors to 501c4s (say, for annual gifts over $10,000) need to be made public at the time of donation, regardless of the donation’s intermediate funding source (such as a Donor Advised Fund). Many 501c4s are advocacy organizations and thus organized for the purpose of influencing policy. But at present only the Internal Revenue Service has regulatory authority over them. That authority should at least be shared with the Federal Elections Commission.

Renee Irvin is President of the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council and an Associate Professor and the Associate School Head at the School of Planning, Public Policy & Management, at the University of Oregon. Irvin is on LinkedIn. Photo of Portland, Oregon, is courtesy of Meggyn Pomerleau and Unsplash.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in
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