The Citizens United decision plus the Presidential election plus Super PACS and anonymous giving through 501(c) 4s suddenly has a lot of people itching to get the public to distinguish between subsections of the IRS tax code. This strikes me as about as likely as getting people to stop saying "I'll Google it" when what they mean is "I'll go type a search term into the browser and see what I find."
Time and again folks will point out the 501 (c) 4 tax exempt organizations are "social welfare organizations," distinct from 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt organizations which are "Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for
Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports
Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals
Organizations." In other words, nonprofits.
Usually the issue is headlines like this one:
Don't get me wrong. The distinction matters. C4s and C3s are different beasts. Political C4s are different beasts from other C4s. The rules are different and the practices are different. But to most folks, a nonprofit is a nonprofit. In the vernacular, the only times it isn't is when someone is talking about a failing business, in which case they sometimes laughingly refer to their business as "unintentionally nonprofit."
Addressing the problem as a semantic issue or trying to introduce a term like social welfare organization into the vernacular is a losing strategy in my opinion. First, it won't work. Second, it doesn't solve the problem of what these organizations are actually doing. And, third, it won't have any effect on money in politics. But all that is besides the point of this buzzword blogpost. Social Welfare Organization may be the first ever entry on this list of "an existing term for which the failing effort to make it a buzzword is precisely why I picked it."