Americans for Tax Reform

Americans for Tax Reform is one of the top 15 dark money groups examined by Issue One’s new “Dark Money Illuminated” report that has been spending millions of dollars in our elections since Citizens United without publicly disclosing their donors. Dark money groups frequently operate as attack dogs during campaigns, criticizing candidates from the shadows. Dark money groups also often push the envelope in terms of how much political spending they can engage in without running afoul of rules that prohibit them from existing primarily to influence elections. By masquerading as a trade association or “social welfare” nonprofit, dark money groups avoid the mandatory donor disclosure rules that would come with registering as a political committee whose primary purpose is to influence elections.

Here’s what Issue One’s year-long “Dark Money Illuminated” investigation revealed:

Americans for Tax Reform raised

$67 million

between January 2010 and December 2016.

Issue One identified


donors to this dark money group.

These donors collectively accounted for


of its funding.

Issue One found 11 donors that gave at least $100,000 since January 2010:

Crossroads GPS: $30 million

American Encore (formerly Center to Protect Patient Rights): $4.5 million

Free Enterprise America: $810,000

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA): $730,000

Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA): $600,000

American Petroleum Institute: $380,000

NCTA – The Internet and Television Association (formerly the National Cable and Telecommunications Association): $300,000

Reynolds American Inc.: $280,000

ACTwireless (formerly $170,000

Edison Electric Institute: $160,000

Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce: $100,000

Note: These numbers have been rounded to two significant figures. Click here to see more details about these contributions — and all identified donors to this group — in Issue One’s exclusive database of dark money donors, and click here to learn more about how these contributors were identified. 

Source: Issue One analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics and Federal Election Commission.

Americans for Tax Reform self-reported to the IRS that

of its total spending was related to political campaign activities

It also told the FEC that


of its political spending was negative

About Americans for Tax Reform

Originally founded in July 1985 to promote President Ronald Reagan’s proposal for tax reform, Americans for Tax Reform remains a powerful lobbying organization today that also frequently spends money in elections to aid Republican candidates. The group’s founder and president is Grover Norquist, a conservative activist who once boasted that his goal was to get government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

In 1994, Norquist was one of the co-authors of the “Contract with America,” the campaign platform that helped the GOP win control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in more than forty years and helped elevate Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA), another co-author, to the position of Speaker of the House.

Americans for Tax Reform’s primary advocacy tool is its “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which asks politicians at the local, state and national level to “make a written commitment to oppose any and all tax increases.”

Americans for Tax Reform, which is organized as a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization, says that nearly 1,400 elected officials nationwide, at all levels of government, have signed its anti-tax pledge. Currently, 46 out of the 51 sitting Senate Republicans are signatories to the pledge, as are nearly 90 percent of the 235 House Republicans.

In 2012 and 2013, a liberal watchdog group twice asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether Americans for Tax Reform had violated federal law by failing to disclose millions of dollars in spending on political activities in 2010 and 2012. An Issue One review of federal records shows that Americans for Tax Reform told the FEC that it spent at least $8 million more expressly advocating for the election or defeat of federal candidates during those two election years than the group told the IRS it spent on “direct or indirect political campaign activities.”