Sunlight Foundation

Editor's Notebook: Following the muddled money

Over the weekend, I came across a new group in our Follow the Unlimited Money tool called CSS Action Fund. I googled the group and didn't find anything about it; by Monday they'd set up a website. Curious, I asked Ryan Sibley, who's been all things post-Citizens United for us, to see what she could find out about the group.

When I sat down to edit her investigation into the 501(c)4 organization, which can run all kinds of political ads without revealing its donors, my head started to spin. There's a D.C. law firm that has the same address, and shares with eight other groups similar to CSS. There's a P.R. firm that handles its records. Though the FEC disclosures filed by the group make no mention of it, CSS (which stands for Citizens for Strength and Security) shares website artwork with another group, this one a 527 called (you guessed it) Citizens for Strength and Security. Related or not? We're not sure -- Ryan could never get anyone involved with any of the groups on the phone long enough to ask. 

While I was editing and talking to Ryan about the story, I started doodling the connections -- this handy guide actually helped me get through the edit, but it gives one an idea of just how difficult it is to follow the disclosures around these independent groups and determine who these groups actually are. Apologies for the scrawled handwriting and the bad artwork--this wasn't produced with an eye to publication, but it does show how muddled following the money has become.

Follow the muddled money

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