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After Raw Story article, Republican National Committee modifies website

John Byrne
Published: January 16, 2006

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Earlier screenshotThe Republican National Committee has revised their website in the wake of a RAW STORY article revealing that the Party had listed nonprofit organizations as "GOP groups."

An article this morning revealed that the Party listed non-partisan, tax-exempt nonprofits as "GOP groups." By this afternoon, the RNC had changed their website to list nonprofits and other groups illegally listed as Republican Party groups as "Other Organizations."

RAW STORY's earlier article follows. At left is a small screenshot of how the page appeared Monday morning.

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It's an open secret in Washington: Nonprofit doesn't always mean nonpartisan.

But RAW STORY has found that the Republican National Committee lists a panoply of conservative nonprofits as "GOP groups"--in direct violation of the nonprofit charter.

Tax-exempt nonprofits can lobby on political issues but cannot participate directly in campaign activities. The American Civil Liberties Union lobbied Congress to ban torture. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington lobbies Congress on Congressional corruption. And Americans for Tax Reform presses lawmakers to slash taxes and government spending.

Many of these groups are led and founded by avowed Democrats or Republicans. Clinton chief of staff John Podesta started Center for American Progress, a liberal thinktank. The Leadership Institute's Morton Blackwell oversaw the youth effort for Ronald Reagan, and former counsel to liberal congressman John Conyers, Melanie Sloan, started Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.

But 501(c)(3) law--referring to the provision in the Internal Revenue Code that designates organizations exempt from corporate and property taxation and makes donations tax deductible--strictly prohibits groups from endorsing candidates or political parties.

A nonprofit "may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate at all in campaign activity for or against political candidates," the IRS law reads.

At least six "GOP groups" listed and linked on the Republican National Committee website are tax-exempt nonprofits. These include the American Enterprise Institute, American Values, Coalition for Urban Renewal, Frontiers of Freedom, the Heritage Foundation and the Leadership Institute.

If defined as a "GOP group," these organizations would not qualify for tax-exempt status under their charters.

The Republican National Committee could not immediately be reached for comment.

The American Enterprise Institute, for instance, a multi-million dollar free-market thinktank founded in 1943 that has emerged as a stalwart supporter of the Bush Administration, defines itself as a "private, nonpartisan, not-for-profit institution."

AEI's "About Us" page declares that "as a tax-exempt educational organization governed by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, AEI is generally prohibited from attempting to influence legislation in the U.S. Congress or other legislative bodies." It adds, "AEI's 501(c)(3) tax status also forbids it from participating in any campaign for elected public office."

Engaging in decidedly partisan campaign activity--such as formally lending its name to a Republican Party website--would violate the group's charter.

The Heritage Foundation, another thinktank juggernaut dating from the 1970s, defines itself as a "research and educational institute" and "public charity" as a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It too, under law, should not appear on a political party's website.

In addition to nonprofits, the "GOP groups" page lists conservative lobbying committees--groups which are not supposed to coordinate with political campaigns or parties.

Among these: Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the National Taxpayer's Union & National Taxpayer's Union Foundation.

Some are chaired by prominent Republicans--Americans for Tax Reform by conservative maverick Grover Norquist and Citizens for a Sound Economy (Freedom Works) by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX). Yet both groups are bound by 501(c)(4) law which prohibits them from coordinating with the Republican Party.

In addition, the political action committee Campaign for Working Families should not be listed as a GOP group.

According to their website, "CWF is a non-partisan political action committee (PAC) dedicated to electing pro-family, pro-life and pro-free enterprise candidates to federal and state offices… Federal laws governing tax-exempt organizations formed for the purpose of educating the public are strict and do not permit them to participate in the electoral process."

Nonprofits in the United States date to the Massachusetts Bay Company, which created the first American board to oversee a grant of property during colonial times. Later, nonprofit status was conferred on private universities.

The nonprofit realm grew dramatically in the 1950s and received greater legislative attention as the organizations became professionalized, leading to increased regulatory scrutiny in the 1980s.

Ron Brynaert contributed research for this article.



 


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