Tax-exempt organizations seeking to influence political elections--called Section 527 organizations--are estimated to spend millions of dollars annually in federal elections. These organizations use unregulated "soft money" for issue advocacy, such as sponsoring an advertisement that supports or opposes a candidate's position on an issue. Although all states require these groups to publicly release data on their finances and activities, no central source for such data exists. In July 2000, Congress passed legislation requiring Section 527 organizations to provide data on their purposes, officers, contributors, and expenses to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for public disclosure. IRS has established a website for this purpose, but GAO found that the website is difficult to use, and most of the disclosed data are not electronically searchable and downloadable--which can inhibit timely analysis of the relationship between political organizations and the influence of soft money on federal campaigns. IRS has done little to oversee Section 527 organizations' compliance with the law's filing and reporting requirements. As a result, IRS can provide four assurances that the data it disclosed on its website are timely, complete, and correct. IRS officials said that oversight has been limited because of (1) competing demands for resources, (2) the focus on educating Section 527 organizations and on publicly disclosing the data, and (3) having the lack of electronic data on Section 527 organizations. IRS has not developed a strategic plan to ensure that the law's requirements are met.
Click here for the full GAO Report, PDF Version, 69pgs. 3716K