Just my luck. Now that people are hyperventilating over something else, I get material from two different 501(c)(3) groups, that put some perspective on the IRS “scandal.” Now I’m wondering why the president, the Congress and the IRS were cowering like whupped puppies.
One missive was from The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a Quaker group, and one was from the Faith and Freedom Coalition, also a Christian organization. Both mailings were unapologetically religious in tone. The similarity ends there.
FCNL’s agenda is mainly anti-war. They research war-and-security-related issues, along with social issues at home, and lobby Congress members. Their activities are scrupulously non-partisan. I have gotten things from FCNL since about 2000, and their message has been exactly the same, under Republican and Democratic presidencies. Their research is recognized by those from both sides of the aisle as accurate and unbiased (though they have a bias against war).
The Faith and Freedom Coalition, on the other hand, makes no secret of having a political agenda. (It was founded by Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition, no stranger to scandal himself.) They say “Faith and Freedom was founded in 2009 with the specific mission of stopping Barack Obama …”
Now the idea of a charity is that they do good works, whether it’s building churches or saving abandoned kitties.
Social-Welfare groups are charities whose “good work” is to educate and inform the public. Think Greenpeace. They don’t build shelters for lost whales, but they do a lot to inform the public of their plight. However, NO charity is supposed to engage in political activity, so informing the public of the faults of the opposition is a no-no. If the specific mission of the Faith and Freedom Coalition is to “stop Barack Obama,” it’s a li-i-i-ittle difficult to see how they can both work to stop him AND not engage in political activity.
I suppose by doing a survey, they can claim they aren’t promoting anything, merely finding out what the Public thinks, and passing that info on to the denizens of Capitol Hill.
If that’s actually what they’re doing. There are big reasons why the “survey” in question is as suspicious as that half-eaten fish sandwich you left in the fridge last month. First of all, they ask for a $10 “processing fee” when you send it in. This is a money-raising ploy, but more than that, it’s a way of making sure they get the answers they want. Because what person who disagrees with them is going to fork over ten smackeroos for the privilege of putting in their contrarian voice?
Even after eliminating those who feel that putting in their two cents’ worth isn’t worth the price tag, the authors of this “survey” don’t want to take any chances. For every two or three questions, there is an “issue summary” which points respondents toward how they want the questions answered. (Absolutely verboten in legitimate survey companies like Gallup and Zogby.)
Example: “ISSUE SUMMARY: The anti-Christian Left is fighting hard to eliminate Christmas as a national holiday. FOX News Commentator Bill O’Reilly summarized the stakes … etc., etc.” Never mind that lots of Christians are Lefties, that we wish each other Merry Christmas, that we have creches in our homes, with the baby Jesus and wise men and angels and all. But if we’re “fighting hard” to scupper Christmas, why haven’t there been any bills in Congress about it? No liberal talk-show hosts agitating against Christmas? Making fun of it? We do make fun of Bill O’Reilly, but the last I heard he isn’t the baby Jesus.
THEN there are the survey’s questions. (Note: ex-English teachers are likely to be picky about such things as leading questions and subordinate clauses. We’re hard-wired for it.) But here’s an example, taken straight off the page, bold type included. I’m not exaggerating anything.
B-7: What do you think America’s Founding Fathers (men such as George Washington and the authors of our Constitution) would think of the Obama Administrations’ efforts to erase every last trace of America’s religious and moral heritages from American public life?
You’ll notice that this is actually two questions: IS Obama trying to erase, etc., etc.? And do you think George Washington et al would agree with it? Because if there’s any debate about Obama’s intentions, then the question about the Founding Fathers gets a little nonsensical. (As Obama has been in office five years, and he’s a regular churchgoer, and I don’t notice the Feds tearing down any churches in Grayling, is it possible George Washington wouldn’t be as outraged as the questioner wants us to be?)
I wondered if some of our Congress critters might take this “survey” for a real gauge of public opinion. I called the office of Rep. Benishek, and asked how much credence he gives this sort of thing.
At first his intern tried to tell me that Mr. Benishek values the opinions of all his constituents. (Canned response No. 1.) When I tried to explain that this survey was fishy, the intern didn’t seem to get the point. I then read some of the questions over the phone, and even the intern was taken aback. He said THAT survey certainly did not come from Benishek’s office. Me: Groan. Explain. But would the Hon. Representative recognize the survey as biased? Intern: He pays attention to all surveys. (Canned response No. 2.) Me: So he swallows fake surveys as the real thing? Intern: Oh, er, um… Me: Might there be some danger of paying attention to blatantly biased surveys? Intern: Maybe … anyway, he’d be glad to pass my concerns on to the Hon. Representative. (Canned response No. 3, hoping to get me off the line.) Poor intern.
But I started out talking about the IRS. Under the Internal Revenue Code, “section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” Furthermore, “Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”
Some say the IRS should go after Liberal groups too. Hey, they do check on “other” political groups, the Tea Party groups aren’t the only ones. It could be that most Liberal groups, like the Quakers’ FCNL, are scrupulous about separating what the IRS considers tax-deductible. For example, on FCNL’s donation form you have to tick a box: This gift is for a) FCNL – lobbying, NOT tax deductible. b) FCNL Education Fund – policy, research, publications and training, IS tax deductible.
As for the “Tea Party” and “Patriot” Social-welfare groups, ever since the Citizens United decision, right-wing special-interest people have poured money into these 501(c)(3) outfits and there has been an explosion of supposedly charitable organizations with blatantly political messages.
Now, if political groups masquerade as “charities,” leaving you and me to shoulder yet a bit more of the tax burden, is the IRS wrong to try to weed them out? I’d rather cheer them on. (AAaarrgh! Am I cheering for the IRS? Maybe just this once …)
But Faith and Freedom insist they’re being criminally harassed. You’d think Christian groups would be wary of bearing false witness … Or maybe, if they bear it against a Democrat, they think it doesn’t count.