A still from an advertisement paid for by Pennsylvanians for Accountability.
by Bill Heltzel
Pennsylvanians for Accountability runs television ads that accuse Gov. Tom Corbett of playing a shell game with the state.
But what game is the Pittsburgh advocacy group itself playing? It refuses to name its officers and directors. It conceals its funders. It uses a mail drop for an address.
“I don’t know who’s in it,” said Georgeanne Koehler, a Pittsburgh resident who is one of three people who incorporated PFA. “I’m not sure who started it or why it was started, other than they want to fight for a better life for our citizens. I don’t know what kind of money they have. … I don’t know who’s in charge.”
PFA is a “social welfare” nonprofit group. The Internal Revenue Service has admitted that its Cincinnati office singled out applications for this type of tax-exempt status filed by conservative groups with “tea party” or “patriots” in their name.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced recently that the Justice Department and FBI will investigate whether the IRS broke any laws by targeting the conservative groups. There is no indication that PFA, which is associated with unions and a liberal group, was singled out by the IRS.
PFA is just one example of the so-called ‘dark money’ groups who attempt to sway public business, yet whose identity is unknown.
Social welfare nonprofits are popular with political operatives because tax-exempt groups do not have to disclose their funders. Political groups regulated by the Federal Election Commission do.
Members of good government groups said the social welfare nonprofits should make public who they are and where their money is coming from so citizens can evaluate their positions.
“The citizens of Pennsylvania have a right to know who is really behind all these organizations with glorious sounding names,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania.
“Who is paying your expenses? Who are your officers? What is your agenda? What do you hope to accomplish?”
PFA looks like a political group. Its ads attack Corbett’s record on corporate tax cuts and denounces budget cuts for education. Corbett, who has not announced his intention to run for re-election in 2014, is in the midst of fighting for his budget.
So far, PFA has spent at least $250,000 on ads in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Lancaster and York, according to incomplete Federal Communications Commission reports. BerlinRosen consulting firm, a campaign consulting firm in New York, said ads also are appearing in Erie, Johnstown, Altoona, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.