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Do nonprofits' names imply political activity?

Most social welfare nonprofits don't have politically charged names

Trevor Potter — a Republican lawyer and president of the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for stronger campaign finance regulations — says that the Internal Revenue Service is right to be on the lookout for organizations with a “significant amount of political activity.”

“What they are trying to do is identify groups that intend to be politically active, which is the appropriate thing for them to do,” he told the Center for Public Integrity, adding an important caveat.

“It seems to me, personally, that using the name is a pretty weak indicia,” he continued.

There are about 90,000 organizations recognized by the IRS as "social welfare" nonprofits under Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code.

Most don't have politically charged names, but scores do.  

For instance, there are 20 social welfare nonprofits with the word "Democrat" in their name, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of IRS data. Meanwhile, 18 social welfare nonprofits include the word "Republican" in theirs.

Twenty-one organizations use the word "conservative," while 31 use the word "progressive."

Sixty-nine social welfare nonprofits include the word "campaign" in their names. Just three use the word "politics."

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Words such as "America" and "veterans" are far more commonly used by 501(c)(4) organizations, as our word cloud illustrates.

According to a recently released inspector general report, the buzzwords “tea party,” “patriot” and “9/12” were used by IRS employees to flag potentially political cases.

Only two social welfare nonprofits with any of those buzzwords in their names reported any political spending to the Federal Election Commission, as the Center for Public Integrity reported. One was Republican-aligned and one was Democratic-aligned.

Reprinted by permission of The Center for Public Integrity.

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This graphic was constructed based on a Center for Public Integrity analysis of organizations listed in the IRS business master file that were recognized in 2012, omitting some common, generic words such as 'association,' 'club' and 'inc.'