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The two most prolific outside spending groups in state elections have found a new method for influencing elections and ballot initiatives — nonprofit groups.

As reported by the Center for Public Integrity on Thursday, the Washington, D.C.-based Republican Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association together have poured tens of millions of dollars of secret money into nonprofits to wage state-level battles over union rights, tax policy, gay marriage and, of course, gubernatorial seats.

The two nonprofit groups — the RGA’s Republican Governors Association Public Policy Committee and the DGA’s America Works USA — are not required to make their donors public, giving these contributors a secret avenue for funding RGA and DGA efforts.

The Internal Revenue Service, however, incorrectly released donor information for the RGA nonprofit, which the Center obtained.

The disclosure reveals several high-profile corporate executives and two healthcare giants supporting the RGA nonprofit’s efforts in 2011.

“Social welfare” nonprofits are not supposed to have a primary purpose of engaging in politics, according to IRS rules. But this has not stopped political operatives from using the groups to influence elections at all levels, and the RGA and DGA are no exception.

During 2011 and the first half of 2012, the DGA nonprofit America Works USA spent 70 percent of its budget on ads in gubernatorial races in West Virginia and Missouri, according to IRS records.

The RGA nonprofit, Republican Governors Association Public Policy Committee, promised the IRS it would spend only 20 percent of its resources on advertisements, but by 2011, had spent 50 percent of its budget on advertisements.

Spending by the RGA and DGA nonprofits has exploded in just two years and is poised to keep rising as 38 governors’ seats go up for grabs this year and next.

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