Getting their list, checking it twice

By Craige McMillan

Last week, I told you about Planned Parenthood of New England’s flagrant electioneering activity on behalf of the Democratic Party, which is being aided by America Coming Together (to elect Democrats). ACT does not pretend to be a public charity and is engaged in the activity for which it was formed: evading campaign finance reporting. Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, does claim to be a public charity.

On its website, Planned Parenthood makes clear that “yes, all donations to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England are tax deductible.” In return for the right to solicit tax-deductible contributions, Internal Revenue Service code states that PP is expressly forbidden from “electioneering activities.”

These organizations cannot endorse any candidates, make donations to their campaigns, engage in fund raising, distribute statements, or become involved in any other activities that may be beneficial or detrimental to any candidate. Even activities that encourage people to vote for or against a particular candidate on the basis of nonpartisan criteria violate the political campaign prohibition of section 501(c)(3)

While voter registration is permissible, Planned Parenthood would have to register voters regardless of political persuasion. The Wall Street Journal article made clear that “Republicans wouldn’t be worth the time,” a direct quote from Ms. Barson, a Planned Parenthood official and – let’s be honest – Democratic political operatives working at Planned Parenthood (“In Fallout From Campaign Law, Liberal Groups Work Together,” by John Harwood, Wall Street Journal, A1, July 27, 2004). Since only Democrats are being registered, Planned Parenthood’s voter registration drive is an “in-kind” political contribution to the Democratic Party and the John Kerry election fund.

Planned Parenthood is not alone in disclosing – no, bragging about – their political activity. The America Votes website lists over 20 major organizations, many of them public charities funded for nonpartisan, nonpolitical activity, actively working to elect Democrats. (Note that trying to elect a candidate, or un-elect another, is quite different from lobbying for specific legislation related to the charity’s purposes, which is permissible on a limited basis.) Once it becomes evident to IRS that these nonprofit charities are engaged in “flagrant violations” of IRS code, the agency is required to go to federal court and obtain an injunction against further spending, tax the offending organization, perhaps including its officers and managers, and notify donors that their contributions to the organization were not tax-deductible.

Many leftist environmental charities have a long history of public fraud. Some have been caught:

The Internal Revenue Service intends to review transactions involving improper charitable contribution deductions of conservation easements, and may challenge the tax-exempt status of participating organizations, according to recent announcements by the IRS and Treasury Department … Claiming an income tax charitable deduction under Internal Revenue Code section 170 for such transfers and payments is often improper, the Notice says, because the donor (or related parties) can reasonably expect to receive economic benefits greater than those received by the general public as a result of the donation … Participating organizations may be operating for a substantial nonexempt purpose or impermissible private benefit, resulting in the charity’s loss of its exempt status under Code section 501(c)(3), and possibly intermediate sanctions excise taxes under section 4958.

Beyond reporting flagrant violations of the law, fellow citizens should know that some public charities are behaving in a deceitful and illegal manner, and that contributions to them claimed as tax-deductible may be disallowed. They can be exposed in the “letters to the editor” section of local and national newspapers, and the behavior condemned. (It may be best to precede criticism with “in my opinion” when writing.) In the Internet age, they can also be exposed and publicized by bloggers. Some may be more receptive than others to such exposure. Try this one.

You may choose to confront the offending organization yourself. Have at it! Most of the contact information is listed on their websites. A letter to their directors and officers may provide a much-needed dose of reality. You should also request the organization’s 990 tax returns for the past three years. (They will attempt to call their electioneering “education” and tell you it is permissible. Don’t swallow it.) Another thing you can ask for is a list of the people and organizations who have rented or “borrowed” the organization’s mailing list during the past year. Here are the guidelines:

Some organizations give, sell, trade, or lend lists of their members to others. If your organization wishes to make its membership list available to candidates, there is no objection to its doing so, provided of course that all candidates are made aware of the opportunity and are given the same access.

However, two other considerations enter the picture. If an organization gives or lends its membership list to a candidate, it is in effect making a campaign contribution; to avoid this, it must receive something of fair value in return. Also, before selling or renting membership lists, 501(c)(3) groups would do well to check rules on unrelated business income.

Remember, the left’s approach is to disregard the law unless it furthers their purposes. If caught, leftists will lie. If the evidence is overwhelming, they will plead ignorance. As a final defense they may even offer an apology. None of which changes the fact that they furthered their agenda, won the election, and their chances of being punished by their ever-so-grateful friends are miniscule. Our job is to change the odds.

Finally, here are some of the suggestions I received from readers:

  • Bring G. Gordon and the plumbers out of retirement to visit these organizations.

  • Raise the flag now. Create petitions for congressional investigation into suspicious activities by tax-exempt 501(c)(3) “public charities” and 527 nonprofit organizations … circulate Web petitions. Encourage voters to contact congressman, especially John McCain, to investigate the matter. Only action by voters in large enough numbers to push issue into light will have an impact.

  • Many years ago, I increased my chances of getting tickets to the Final Four by applying to their lottery many times. They solved that problem by requiring each application to be sent in it’s own envelope. If that was done with voter registrations it would keep these low life thieves from dumping hundreds or thousands of registrations on officials at once.

  • We can find political candidates we can support … and support them. Put a sign in your yard, a bumper sticker on your car. Help them walk their districts house to house, sign wave, mail letters, phone their supporters to offer rides on Election Day, drive supporters to the polls. Host a “Meet The Candidate” coffee. Make a contribution. Go to rallies and fund-raisers. Or run for office yourself.

(Contacts: IRS, Exempt Organizations Examination Division, 1100 Commerce Street, ATTN: T:EO:E, Dallas, TX 75242. The complaint should contain all relevant facts concerning the alleged violation of tax law. Also, the Center for Responsive Politics is tracking violations of law by public charities. You can publicize violators here.