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Politically active 'social welfare' nonprofits get IRS approval with cash, connections

The Sunlight Foundation reports that in the wake of Citizens United, tax-exempt social welfare groups, 501(c)4 organizations, have becoming increasingly popular as conduits for big, anonymous campaign donations. A survey by the Sunlight Foundation found dozens of groups in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia that appear to benefit Republican and Democratic politicians, despite being set up as social welfare nonprofits that according to tax code most benefit whole communities. The Sunlight Foundation also reports "plenty of evidence that a group's ability to operate as a tax exempt organization has less to do with its political persuasion than its budget and political connections."

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Wrong-Way River
“Biologists predict the number of unwanted organisms moving on the Chicago canal will only grow until the waterway is somehow plugged. And it is much more than a Great Lakes problem because biological pollution travels both directions on this invasive species superhighway.”

The Morning Call
Amazon warehouse workers fight for unemployment benefits
“Its relationship with Amazon has made Integrity Staffing Solutions the biggest temporary-employment firm in the Lehigh Valley and one of the fastest-growing agencies of its kind in the country. Part of its role is fighting to keep its workers from collecting unemployment benefits after they have lost a job at Amazon.”

Welcome to IRE's roundup of the weekend’s many enterprise stories from around the country. We'll highlight the document digging, field work and data analysis that made their way into centerpieces in print, broadcast and online from coast to coast.Did we miss something? Email tips to

The Atlantic
In Southern Towns, 'Segregation Academies' Are Still Going Strong
“In the 1960s and '70s, towns across the South created inexpensive private schools to keep white students from having to mix with black. Many remain open, the communities around them as divided as ever.”

The Indianapolis Star
The China Letter
“Now the one person who knew the whole truth was dead, leaving a trail of documents and stories on two continents. They provide a few answers. But they raise plenty of questions, not least of which is why a state agency hired a highly persuasive but not particularly accomplished interpreter for the delicate task of luring international investment and jobs to Indiana.”

The Orange County Register
Universities with connections win most stem cell money
Repeated independent reviews of the agency, including one by the Institute of Medicine released this month, have found that its board is rife with conflicts of interest. In fact, of the $1.7 billion that the agency has awarded so far, about 90 percent has gone to research institutions with ties to people sitting on the board, according to an analysis by David Jensen at the California Stem Cell Report, which closely follows the agency's operations.

Shale drillers eager to move wastewater on barges
The shale gas drilling industry wants to move its wastewater by barge on rivers and lakes across the country. But the U.S. Coast Guard, which regulates the nation’s waterways, must first decide whether it’s safe.

BP’s U.S. Suspension Allows Airport-Fuel Exception for Pentagon
“BP Plc (BP/)’s temporary ban from new U.S. government work now includes a bit of wiggle room for the Defense Department.

Karl Rove’s Dark Money Group Promised IRS It Would Spend ‘Limited’ Money on Elections
“In a confidential 2010 filing, Crossroads GPS — the dark money group that spent more than $70 million from anonymous donors on the 2012 election — told the Internal Revenue Service that its efforts would focus on public education, research and shaping legislation and policy.”

The Dallas Morning News
The Burden of Lead: West Dallas deals with contamination decades later
“The low-income neighborhood of older wood-frame homes in West Dallas is a far cry from the suburb of newly built brick houses in Frisco 30 miles to the north. But the two North Texas communities share a bond: Both were contaminated by industrial lead for nearly half a century.”

The Statesman Journal
When politicians gamble on developers with taxpayer money, who ends up paying?
“Public agencies often use tax-based resources to partner with private developers. Those deals can help transform blighted areas, but they also can become costly projects with dubious results. In a two-day series, the Statesman Journal explores local examples of how public-private partnerships have worked.”

The Columbus Dispatch
Federal student loans become constant burden
“But millions of others also are in default, and some have been there for years. To gauge the lingering consequences, The Dispatch collected and analyzed a random sample of 394 cases from the nearly 16,000 lawsuits that the U.S. government has filed against defaulted student-loan debtors since 2007.”

The Pioneer Press
Hooked on Opiates: More legal use leads to more addiction, crimes, deaths
“Last year, enough of the two leading painkillers -- oxycodone and hydrocodone -- was distributed in the state to provide 18 pills for every man, woman and child. That's up from two pills per person in 1997.”

Doctors face quandary of relieving pain, without feeding addiction
A growing number of health care groups in the Twin Cities are investing in strategies to make sure doctors don't serve as unwitting spigots of medications for addicts. But there's also concern that increased regulation could prompt physicians to stop prescribing medications to patients with legitimate pain-control needs.

The Charlotte Observer and the (Raleigh) News & Observer
Prognosis: Profits, The rising fortunes of Charlotte hospitals haven't always helped patients

"In the latest installment of their ongoing investigation into nonprofit hospitals, the Charlotte Observer and News & Observer of Raleigh reported Sunday that N.C. patients are likely to pay more for routine health care if their doctors are employed by a hospital."
You can find Charlotte's stories here and Raleigh's stories here.

An examination of accounts filed by 25 Amazon units in six countries show how the company has avoided paying more tax in the United States, where it's based, according to a report from Reuters. Reuters writes that Amazon, in effect, used inter-company payments to form a tax shield behind which it has accumulated $2 billion. Last year, it was announced that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service was seeking $1.5 billion in back taxess, which Amazon said it would "vigorously contest."

In an ongoing series, The Washington Post's Debbie Cenziper and Nikita Stewart identified $2.6 billion in unexplained property tax reductions, made through secretive, back-room deals, for hundreds of influential developers in Washington, D.C. The third installment today found that the District's new chief appraiser had been dogged by similar allegations at his last job in Atlanta, where steep tax reductions were awarded to a mall and mansion owned by Lee Najjar, also known as “Big Poppa,” a well-known developer mentioned on the reality series, “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”

Today's story:

First story:

“The Internal Revenue Service — citing data it is making public for the first time at the request of Scripps Howard News Service — estimates that tax filers improperly submitted 350,000 returns on dead Americans this tax season, improperly seeking $1.25 billion in refunds.

Parents who recently lost a child are increasingly targeted by these thieves, experts say. Armed with the deceased child’s Social Security number and other personal information, the crooks falsely claim them as dependents and have the refunds routed to them.”

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