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Home / About this Project / Database methodology

Database methodology

Posted on 08-19-2004 1:15 PM EDT

Selection of Groups for the Study

Groups included in the New Stealth PACs database demonstrated significant involvement in elections during at least one cycle from 2000 to 2004. The selection of groups is not intended to be all encompassing nor are all election activities of the selected groups included.

Finances

Data in this section came exclusively from organizations’ 990 forms, their annual tax submissions to the IRS. The forms are publicly accessible by law. Because organizations are not required to file 990 forms for several months after the end of their fiscal years, and often request extensions that last for several additional months, the most recent data available in many instances is from 2002.

Election Activities

Election activities included in the New Stealth PACs database were primarily communications determined by academic experts or Public Citizen to closely match the IRS definition of political expenditures. (The IRS defines these as expenditures “intended to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of anyone to a federal, state, or local public office.”) Reports of election activities were collected from academic studies, news coverage and the organizations’ Web sites. In general, election activities refer to discreet communications, such as television commercials or direct mail items. In certain cases, however, Public Citizen obtained a summary, but not specifics, of a group’s activities in a given contest. In those cases, the activities are treated as a single episode and summarized in the description.

Some data in this project are derived from a series of research publications associated with the studies done by a team of political scientists and legal scholars at the University of Wisconsin, Brigham Young University and New York University’s Brennan Center. These studies were part of the “Buying Time” research project, which was supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The academic team monitored political broadcasts during the elections, classified their content and analyzed their significance in regard to the campaigns and campaign financing. Research reports produced by the "Buying Time" studies and used in this project include: Craig Holman and Luke McLoughlin, Buying Time 2000: Television Advertising in the 2000 Federal Elections (2001); David B. Magleby and J. Quin Monson, The Last Hurrah? Soft Money and Issue Advocacy in the 2002 Elections (2003) and Ken Goldstein, BCRA and Interest Groups Ads in the 2002 Congressional Elections (2004). Dr. Holman, now of Public Citizen, as well as Drs. Magleby and Goldstein, submitted their research to federal courts and served as witnesses in McConnell v. FEC, the Supreme Court case that largely upheld the constitutionality of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

Cost estimates of election activities came from media reports and the "Buying Time" studies – which employed data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), a company that monitors political television advertisements across the nation.

Funders

Section 501(c) groups must disclose to the IRS the names of contributors who gave $5,000 or more in a year. By examining the Form 990 Schedule B, Public Citizen could gather some information about how many major donors support a 501(c) group and how large their gifts are – but the names of donors are not a matter of public record. Specific funder information in the New Stealth PACs database was derived primarily from news reports. Occasionally, groups provided Public Citizen with unredacted copies of their IRS disclosure forms.

Principals and Consultants

This section consists of up to three categories of information for each group: "Principals and Staff," "Individuals Who Served as Consultants" and "Organizations that Served as Consultants or Vendors."

"Principals and Staff" includes people who have been officers of a group, served on the group’s board of directors or served in roles that appeared tied to the group’s electoral work. For large organizations, lists were edited to exclude employees who did not appear to be involved in the group’s electoral activities. Members of boards of directors were included in nearly all instances. IRS 990 forms were the primary source of information for this section.

"Individual Who Served as Consultants" refers to people who serve as independent contractors for a group in capacities that appeared tied to the group’s electoral pursuits. Media reports were the primary source of information for this section.

"Organizations that Served as Consultants or Vendors" refers to companies offering political services, such as media consulting, of which a 501(c) group was a client. Media reports were the primary source of information for this section.

In each of the three categories above, the New Stealth PACs database includes selected other affiliations of the principals and consultants. For example, it includes individuals’ affiliations with other partisan Section 501(c) groups, as well as political campaigns, political committees and political parties.

Selected Affiliates

This section includes organizations that have legal connections to the groups in the New Stealth PACs database. The most common examples include groups that also maintain a federally regulated PAC, as well as Section 527 and Section 501(c)(3) arms. Affiliates that appeared to have no connection to the New Stealth PACs’ political pursuits were excluded. Organizations’ 990 forms were the primary source of information for this section.

Coalition Partners

This section includes organizations of which a New Stealth PAC has been a member (e.g., the United Seniors Association was a member of the 21st Century Energy Project), organizations with which the New Stealth PAC has coordinated activities (e.g., the 60 Plus Association and Citizens for a Sound Economy worked together to promote one of President Bush’s tax cut proposals), and organizations that simply describe themselves as allies of one another (e.g., American Family Voices’ Web site lists United for a Fair Economy as an “action partner.”). Media reports and organizations’ Web sites were the primary sources of information for this section.

 

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