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Mark Mahoney's Your Right to Know
by Mark Mahoney

Your Right to Know

A Daily Gazette opinion blog
An interactive forum for readers on open government issues.

Info about nonprofits available online

In Sunday's Opinion section, we ran a pro/con piece on climate change that featured an anti-climate-change piece by Amy Ridenour, chair of the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR). I had a number of readers ask if they could find out more about this organization other than that it is a "conservative think tank."
As we know, government bodies must follow strict guidelines for disclosure of information. Nonprofit organizations such as this one also have their own set of disclosure rules, and people can find out a considerable amount of information about these groups just by going online.
One way is through their filings under their tax-exempt status.
A common nonprofit IRS designation is 501(c)(3), which is the category under which the National Center for Public Policy Research falls.
These tax-exempt organizations must follow a specific set of guidelines to qualify for the tax exemption, such as that they can't generate a profit for an individual or stockholders and they can't actively participate in political activities.
These organizations must publish a copy of their tax return, Form 990, and must disclose the names of their boards of directors. They don't have to tell who their contributors are, but they have to disclose numerical information about their revenues and expenditures.
Organizations listed as private foundations must file a different tax return (990PF) and must disclose contributors. We'll talk about them another time.
Just a quick glance at the NCPPR's tax filing lists $9.911 million in revenue in the 2011 tax season and $9.967million in expenditures, with total assets listed at $2.02 million. It paid two executives, Chair Amy Ridenour and her husband, President David Ridenour, $246,334 and $212,799, respectively. The other directors listed in the tax filing were unpaid. Citizens can also get an accounting of how much the group spent on employees and independent contractors, as well as how much it brought in from various sources. The website also provides a link to a private audit of the organization, which also includes detailed financial information.
In addition to the organization website, New York and other states maintain lists of charities registered in the state. New York's searchable charities website can be found at
NCPPR's listing on the site contains financial reports, its tax returns and other information about it.
The organization's website is also a good place to find out information about the people who run it and the people who support it, information that can give people a good idea of how it approaches public policy issues. The NCPPR website lists biographies of all the top officials in the organization. One can also get a sense of an organization's political approach by looking at who speaks in favor of it. The NCPPR website, for instance, lists endorsements from people like former President George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Oliver North, Alan Keyes and the heads of other conservative organizations.
These disclosure requirements for nonprofits are part of your right to know, in this case, your right to know how your charitable dollars are being spent and by whom.
Post questions or comments below, or email me at

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