A "dark money" organization for the Left. We're ready to get our hands dirty for democracy.

FAQ

Just what kind of organization is this?

We're a 501(c)(4).

A 5-0...what?


You’ve probably heard of 501(c)3 charitable organizations. A 501(c)(4) is another type of nonprofit organization, specifically created for the promotion of social welfare. Your local Lion’s Club or Rotary Club is probably a 501(c)(4), as are many homeowners’ and tenants’ associations and volunteer fire companies.

 

Unlike 501(c)(3) organizations, 501(c)(4) organizations may also engage in electoral campaign activities, as long as they still spend more than half their budgets on social welfare projects. That’s why groups like the ACLU, The Brady Campaign, the National Rifle Association and The People for the American Way have established 501(c)(4)s.

 

Some 501(c)(4) organizations have been referred to as “dark money” organizations, especially following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling of 2010, which allowed groups to give unlimited amounts of money to third-party political organizations.

 

That sounds pretty shady....

Yep, pretty much. And following the Citizens United ruling, conservatives have taken to underhanded tactics like flies to a pecan pie left out on a hot summer’s day.  Since 2010, the number of 501(c)(4) orgs has skyrocketed, and by far most of the activity is by conservative groups. In 2016, for example, 76% of the spending by non-disclosing organizations came from conservative groups—over $139 million dollars worth!—while only 23% of total spending came from liberals. Google “Koch brothers” and “dark money" and you’ll get plenty more information.

So are you a Super PAC, then?

Nope. Super PACs also engage in political campaigning, but there’s an important distinction: a Super PAC is required to list its donors publicly. A 501(c)(4) only reports its donors to the IRS and potentially to a few state regulators; it has no obligation to make its donors public. Essentially a 501(c)(4) can receive unlimited, anonymous donations from individuals, corporations and labor unions. That means (as the Washington Post put it) “if you are a donor looking to influence an election but do not want to reveal your identity, the 501(c)(4) is an attractive option through which to send your cash.”

Why would an organization like yours, interested in education, equality, and transparency, choose to be a 501(c)(4)?

Here’s the simple answer: we care about your privacy, and we want you to be able to participate in determining the future of your country without fear of repercussions. When freedom of speech is under threat—and we believe that it is—privacy becomes not just valuable, but essential. Maybe you live in a Red State, and you don’t want your name publicly available for all your neighbors to see. Maybe you work for a conservative company, and you want to make your voice heard on social welfare issues and political matters, but you can’t have your boss finding out you gave money to an anti-Trump Super PAC. Maybe you just think your politics are your own business.

What’s your philosophy when it comes to opposing conservatives? Will you go high when they go low?

No. Conventional warfare isn’t effective against guerillas, and our objective is to win. Although we see efforts to appeal to high-minded principles as an essential feature of progressive politics, and an essential means to maintain the momentum of those of us on the Left, we need to retake old liberal territory and gain new ground if we want to defend democracy against the Right’s assaults on freedom and basic human rights. And to take back that territory, we need firepower that the Left has often been hesitant to use out of a desire to avoid becoming “just as bad” as the Right. Well, we all see where those strategies have gotten us.

 

This isn’t to say we need to lie and circulate rumors about conservatives running child sex rings out of pizza parlors, like the conservatives have done with Hilary. Why make things up when conservatives are on hot mics bragging about sex assault, denying the Holocaust, saying poor people deserve to be sick, and suggesting we tax the sun? Our goal is to undermine right wing power using whatever tactics are available and necessary.

What kind of projects do you have in mind?

Our primary focus is on providing education and information: the essential elements of a healthy democracy. As a social welfare organization we have a special interest in keeping the public empowered to exercise their civil rights--which means both knowing what those rights are, and knowing when those rights are being violated or stripped away outright. We consider our loyalty to be to the Constitution rather than to any one party, and we will relentlessly call out any person, organization, or elected official who proposes to violate the Bill of Rights.

 

We’re also committed to helping all Americans use all the tools available to them to participate in the electoral process. In fact, we consider the ongoing development of this website part of our work. We want you to understand the mechanics of Dark Money orgs and other political orgs often masked from view or inaccessible to non-political professionals. And we want you to have a voice in the deployment of those tools by being able to suggest ideas to us.

Okay. But what are you doing right now?

You can see one of our projects right here: Victims of Right-Wing/Republican Crime is our answer to Trump’s Naziesque clearing house for immigrant crimes, VOICE. We chose this as one of our launch projects because it represents a fundamental aspect of our approach: we will respond to conservative tactics in kind, hitting them back with strategies out of their own playbook. In fact, they should learn to expect that when they go low, there will be a Progressive answer right down there on their own level.

 

Moving forward, one of our priorities will be to produce aggressive ads for radio, TV and other public platforms, targeting vulnerable Republican candidates in 2018, the Republican platform in general, and Trump’s own re-election campaign.

 

So it sounds like you’re interested in social welfare, and also interested in fighting Trump specifically?

That’s right. Because we’re a 501(c)(4), a mathematical majority of our funds will go towards social welfare. We are allocating up to 40% of our expenditures, however, to attack Republican candidates during the 2018 midterm elections, and Trump himself as he campaigns for 2020.

Trump is campaigning for 2020 already?

He started right after being sworn in as president, and he’s already raised over 13 million dollars for his 2020 campaign.

What makes Citizens Unleashed different, and who’s steering the ship?

We aren’t political operatives by trade, and we think that’s a good thing: we’re just American citizens who are mad as hell, and we believe so much in our cause that we’re putting our own money at stake and taking time away from the jobs that pay us a living.

So you’re not going to be using my donation to buy a corporate jet? I’ve heard Dark Money organizations and PACs are often vehicles for the enrichment of the directors, with little money going to their putative causes.

No jets. We aren’t even salaried, even though legally speaking we’re entitled to “reasonable compensation.”

We do understand you want to know what’s happening with your cash, and to that end, we’ll provide updates about our projects to all donors who subscribe to our newsletter. Sign up here.

And rest assured that we’re taking care to use only the services of companies that we feel share our donors’ progressive values. Even our bank is ethical, and per their principles, your money will not be used even indirectly to support climate-change deniers, anti-abortion advocates, anti-union groups, or anyone who tries to deny LGBTQ rights.

How do I know you’re taking the rules and regulations that guide political nonprofits seriously?

Well, for one thing, we’ve retained an excellent legal team. Our law firm has one of the best political practices in the game, and our lawyers have lots of experience navigating the laws applying to advocacy organizations.

I’m ready to give you money. Is there a limit on what I can contribute?

As a 501(c)(4), we can take in unlimited funds from most individuals and entities. In most cases, if you have a business, it can give us money too. There are some exceptions; a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, for instance, may be limited in how it can contribute. Feel free to ask us if you want to know more.

Is my donation tax-deductible?

No.

Um, did you know that the acronym for your organization is a favorite insult for liberals used by the alt-right?

We sure do.

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