Legal Structure of Our Centrist Org & Why We Chose It
There are essentially four options available to most political organizations like ours. Each have their different rules involving fundraising, what they are allowed to do and what they are allowed to spend money on.
We chose what is called a ‘527 Group’ for our centrist organization because it fit closest to what we believe to be the proper role for political nonprofits. This required two things that we think all political organizations should be required to do:
- 527 groups are legally required to reveal all donations to the public – we’re still working out how this will work, but we’re trying to find an automated system that we can use to share our fundraising information more regularly. In the beginning it will be monthly on our website, and quarterly in government required filings.
- 527s are not allowed to donate to campaigns – one of our core principles is anti-corruption, and part of that is our belief that only individual citizens should be allowed to fund campaigns. Donations will be spent on online community building, content creation and local grassroots organizing – not on donations to campaigns.
Here are the three primary sorts of political organizations we chose not to be, and why:
- Political Action Committees – PACs have lower donation limits, but can give up to $5,000 to candidate campaigns, which we believe should be illegal, so we could not be a standard PAC.
- Hybrid PACs – more famously known as ‘Super PACs’, these organizations use a loophole in the law to both raise unlimited funds and also can give donated money to candidate campaigns.
- 501(c)4 Groups – aptly labeled ‘dark money groups’ by some, there are loopholes in the law that these organizations can use to raise unlimited funds, without revealing who their donor are.
YOUR Centrist 527 Group
According to the IRS’ website, 527 groups are created:
“primarily to influence the selection, nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates to federal, state or local public office.”
While this is the case, another reason we picked this legal structure for our centrist organization is because 527 groups are prohibited from engaging in what is called ‘express advocacy’ as it’s “major purpose”. This means, as a 527 group, that we cannot be expending most of organizational funds toward telling people who to vote for.
Yet again, we agree with the law here – we believe that this is how all organizations (excepting political parties) should have to act / what the proper role of political nonprofits should be.
Our organization’s primary focus / “major purpose” is to build a network of, by and for centrist and moderate voters – both online (our ‘Big Tent Centrist Activist Network’) and offline – grassroots local chapters and allied organizations on the ground near them. Our members will be able to find, learn about, join and/or start groups of centrists and moderates in their areas, as well as connect with centrist to moderate pages that members can set up if they are a part of a group, organization or campaign of some sort that falls within the centrist to moderate big tent spectrum and meets our anti-corruption standards (no dark money groups, for instance – even centrist ones like No Labels and The Centrist Project).
Endorsing, or more generally supporting, candidates isn’t even our secondary purpose, insofar as expenditure of funds is concerned. Almost as important as the first, our secondary major purpose is to be a voice for centrists and moderates – primarily online (though our blog, podcast(s), YouTube channel and other outlets), as well as a platform for voices in the center to share their views.
This involves most of what a visitor to our website will see when they first come to our website, starting with the blog – where politically centrist content written and submitted by members.
Beyond the community blog and organizing network for members, there will be areas of the website that will have in depth informational and educational resources that will include things like profiles of noteworthy centrist and moderate political figures, organizations and books, links to other blogs and informational websites representing the center and/or providing genuine nonpartisan material, training material and advice on how members can start local groups, run for office or a wide range of other ways they can get involved and do their part.
We will work to lend some level of support to centrist candidate campaigns, although it will not come in the form of money (nor overt endorsement, as that is illegal for 527 groups), and we will fight to someday see a law pass that makes such monetary relationships between anyone other than individuals and candidate campaigns illegal. What we will do in relation to campaigns we align with can’t qualify as ‘express advocacy’ – defined by relevant laws as specifically asking for people to vote or support them in some way, which is not triggered by merely profiling, blogging about, interviewing or allowing them to connect with and engage with members in our community and local chapters.
How Uniters.org Will Differ from Other 527 Groups
527 groups are allowed to raise money from any source (individuals, corporations, unions, other political organizations. etc), but we will only accept donations from individuals, nonpartisan foundations or political nonprofit organizations that reveal their donor information – no dark money groups, no businesses, no unions and no bundlers (people who gather multiple donations from individuals and lump them together to try and exert the sort of influence large donations deep-pocketed organizations can get – which is largely unregulated, and we believe should be illegal), etc.
While not legally barred from accepting donations from other sources, we are ethically barred from doing so, if we are to live up to our own anti-corruption principles. On top of that, our legal obligation to be transparent as to who donates to us will enable the members of our centrist big tent to make sure that we put our money where our mouths are on our anti-corruption stance against this – one of many complex ways that money is shifted around to hide who funds the organizations that have an impact on elections.
We Will Never Morph into a Centrist Party
Political parties are among the organizations that technically (though a different form of such) fall under the 527 group legal umbrella, but we are not – and will never entertain the idea of becoming – a political party. Our aim is to help organizations and groups all across the centrist & moderate spectrum – including centrist party groups, but also local grassroots groups, PACs, other 527s, etc (no formal or monetary relationships with dark money groups or paid staff, though) – and we will stay that way for the lifespan of the organization.
While a national centrist party will likely someday come into being (and most of us hope to see it happen sooner, rather than later), we believe what is needed most – both now, as well as in the future so pressure can be kept on such a party, to make sure it lives up to its ideals and isn’t beholden to special interest money like the two major parties are – is an organized grassroots network that can help centrist independent candidates, bring attention to good work being done by centrists and moderates now and help local groups (including centrist parties that are beginning to sprout up around the country) start and grow.
There are a wide range of organizations that are necessary for a future centrist movement to succeed in seeing our views fairly represented in Washington. We aim to be but one of them – and one whose success would directly lead to the growth of all of the others.
How We’ll Spend Your Money to Help Centrist Causes
Lastly, perhaps the biggest difference between Uniters.org and most 527 groups, as well as other political organizations, will be in how we spend the money donated to us.
While we are just as focused on issue advocacy on our core principles, and more generally will work to work with and build a network of centrists and moderates, we will not be spending any of the hard earned money members donate to us on the thing political organizations are most known for dumping their money into.
You probably already guessed what we’re talking about, but we just want to make this overwhelmingly clear:
Uniters.org will never spend a penny on television, radio or print advertising. Never. Period.
The only advertising we will be spending any money on will be traditional online advertising (just regular image or text ads – none of the annoying garbage), with the intention of bringing more people into our grassroots network. None of it will go toward things like popups or full screen ‘pop-under’ ads that get in the way of what you went to a site to look at or any other sort of annoying, obstructive sort of marketing like that. More importantly – you’ll also never see your money wasted on junk mail, ridiculous and hyperbolic attack ads (no matter the medium) or any other sort of non-targeted or intrusive mass media.
The majority of donated funds will go toward online and offline grassroots organizing and networking of political centrists, representing the views of the center and educating centrists on political issues.
We will not be contributing money to campaigns, or any other political organizations – PACs or otherwise. Our organization will also never employ lobbyists. Members will be free to share their thoughts on our blog, and we will may – for example – encourage followers and members to contact their representatives in government and/or advocate for a position on referendum – but those communications will be limited to modes of communication that are free or inexpensive (email, social media, blogging, etc) – not paid, mass media advertising.
We’re not saying that there isn’t a place for mass media advertising that communicates a position on an issue, or other political messaging – if (and only if, in our opinion) done honestly and tastefully, and paid for by an organization with fully transparent funding. This sort of activity just doesn’t align with what our organization stands for, what we believe to be the most effective use of funds or how we want to achieve our goals (ethical means are just as important to us as aiming toward the right ends), and over years of conversations with centrist grassroots, we don’t believe that our members would want us to be spending our money there, when we could be spending it building a bigger and better community.
I hope this answers any questions you may have, but if you have any questions or comments about our organizational structure, members can contact me at my profile, and anyone can contact us through the contact page.
Thanks for your interest,
Founder / Editor