MapLight battles the Koch brothers over transparency

March 26, 2018

In January, MapLight filed a complaint with the IRS after Americans for Prosperity, the flagship dark money organization of billionaire libertarian brothers Charles and David Koch, refused to disclose information about the size of individual contributions that allowed them to amass nearly $64 million in 2016 alone.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) rejected MapLight’s request to release a redacted section of their 2016 tax return known as a Schedule B, which would reveal how much of their funding comes from large donors, listing the amount of all donations over $5,000. They’ve also rejected MapLight's subsequent requests to release the same redacted section of their 2014 and 2015 Schedule B forms.

The IRS requires nonprofit organizations to provide full copies of their tax returns, including a Schedule B, to the public. These regulations allow nonprofits to redact the names and addresses of individual contributors; however, even with this anonymity in place, AFP has argued that disclosing the amounts of contributions would make it possible to identify their donors.

AFP’s refusal to follow IRS regulations is not an isolated incident in the world of dark money groups—they are just one of more than a dozen groups surveyed by MapLight that has refused to release this redacted section of their Schedule B.

This kind of transparency is crucial to the public interest because citizens have a right to know about anonymous, unelected billionaires’ attempts to influence American politics through massive donations.

Even without names and addresses, the Schedule B can be an incredibly useful tool for journalists. This became clear last year when MapLight used a Schedule B to reveal that the dark money organization that financed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation received 90% of its 2016 funding from a single $28 million donation.

Redacted Schedule B forms give the public a sense of the size of an organization’s donor base; allowing citizens to determine if an organization is bankrolled by a handful of extremely wealthy donors or grassroots support from a wide range of donors.

AFP’s spending and influence on national policy has not stopped in the wake of the 2016 elections. They emerged as a major player in the battle over last year’s tax cut, promising to spend “several hundred thousand dollars on digital advertising” and another $20 million to “educate the public about the benefits of the new law.” They also announced that they would make “a significant investment” to ensure that more than 170 lower court vacancies, and any potential vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, are filled by conservative jurists.

Looking to the future, the Koch Brothers have disclosed that they plan to spend almost $400 million to support conservative causes and candidates during the 2018 election cycle.

Learn more about MapLight’s latest research and investigations.