Org Dedicated to ‘Transparency’ Hides Tax Filings

Global Disinformation Index
Global Disinformation Index logo | Image by Global Disinformation Index

A State Department-funded organization that purports to combat opaque operations within websites and media stands accused of hypocritically and illegally hiding its own funders and officers.

The stated mission of the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), a not-for-profit organization, and its affiliates, as declared on its IRS Form 990 disclosure, is to serve as a “nonpartisan organization that combats disinformation both in the United States and globally through the creation of public ratings of media sources that assess their disinformation risk using objective criteria.”

But a report from the Washington Examiner suggests GDI has been covertly blacklisting dissident and right-wing media by broadly labeling them as “disinformation.”

GDI sends to advertisers every month its “dynamic exclusion list” of websites and media entities that it deems to be spreading said “disinformation,” the newspaper reported. The organization’s list is based on finding “conflicts of interests that can arise from opaque ownership structures” and “lack of transparency around operational policies and practices.”

Yet a subsequent investigation by the Washington Examiner suggests that GDI itself demonstrates a lack of transparency.

Seeking to uncover more information about the organization’s funding, the Washington Examiner requested and obtained the public filings of GDI’s U.S. entities by going through the organization’s lawyer and former senior IRS official, Marcus Owens. However, the tax records received were redacted in some key areas, such as board members and the identity of the accountant who prepared the documents.

One of GDI’s affiliated charities, the AN Foundation, which is of British origins but has U.S. entities that are registered in San Antonio, turned over redacted copies of its 2022 financial disclosures.

Redacting this information was likely illegal, according to Patrick Sternal, a former IRS lawyer the Washington Examiner consulted.

GDI has defended these redactions by claiming an exemption under IRS law for organizations targeted by a “harassment campaign.” However, the Washington Examiner reported that it is unclear whether this particular exemption, which allows an entity to withhold filings when it is facing a deluge of hundreds and thousands of requests, applies to GDI.

GDI’s legally dubious tactic regarding the filings spurred legal watchdog group The National Legal and Policy Center to file a complaint with the IRS asking that the agency “revoke [GDI’s] tax-exempt status.”

What’s more, the Washington Examiner discovered that GDI’s affiliated entities received about $960,000 in funding between 2020 and 2022 from the U.S. State Department. These revelations prompted two of the targeted media entities, the Daily Wire and the Federalist, along with the state of Texas, to sue the State Department in federal court for illegally censoring the American press.

The New Civil Liberties Alliance, a legal advocacy center that filed the suit on behalf of Texas and the aggrieved media entities, characterized the federal funding as a return of the “Disinformation” Governance Board, a program under the Department of Homeland Security that was scrapped in 2022 due to public outcry.

“George Orwell, call your office: The Disinformation Governance Board is back!” Peggy Little, senior litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, said in a statement on the organization’s website. “Your State Department — which may only address foreign affairs — has been secretly scheming with and funding private companies to create blacklists of conservative media outlets to defund and silence speech with which it disagrees.”

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