But no one knows who's paying for this giant ad buy—and that's partly because the group behind those ads may have flaunted IRS law in order to conceal the identities of its donors.
A super PAC called the Government Integrity Fund Action Network is footing the bill for the six-week ad campaign, which is airing in three different television markets. But that group has reported only one source of funds in 2014—$1 million that a separate organization, the Government Integrity Fund, donated to it in mid-April. The Government Integrity Fund is based in Ohio and is registered with the IRS as a social welfare group, also known as a 501(c)(4). Its purpose, according to papers it filed with the Ohio secretary of state in 2011, is to "promote the social welfare of the citizens of Ohio."
Political groups frequently organize as 501(c)(4)s because this type of tax-exempt organization is not required to disclose its donors. So no one in the public knows who gave the $1 million to the Government Integrity Fund that it passed to the Government Integrity Fund Action Network to underwrite these pro-Cotton ads.
If this seems complicated, it's supposed to be. Political operatives on both sides raise and spend money through 501(c)(4)s and other tax-exempt groups with vague-sounding names to avoid disclosure. Watchdog groups maintain that this is a violation of IRS law. And the Government Integrity Fund already has a spotty record.