Imagine if your pastor got up in the pulpit next week and said:
Ok, I don’t think your pastor would use those words, but what if he said, “Randall Terry is running for president? Yuckity yuck.”
You’d say to yourself, “I don’t think my pastor supports Randall Terry running for president.” And even if you agreed you’d become uncomfortable, because you know pastors aren’t supposed to politic from the podium.
Or what if your pastor said, “Herman Cain’s presidential aspirations mean more than the mental health, dignity, and rights of the women who are ‘against’ him.”
You’d say to yourself, “I don’t think my pastor likes Herman Cain very much.” And again, even if you didn’t like Herman Cain either, you’d wonder what possessed your pastor to make such a negative, vague characterization about a presidential candidate, particularly in his capacity as a church official.
Surprising to me was to learn RH Reality Check plans to convert into a “fully independent 501 c3 organization” – a nonprofit, charitable, tax exempt group. This is the same IRS designation your church, the Salvation Army, and the Boy Scouts enjoy, and the benefits are huge:
- 501(c)3s pay no federal corporate income tax, nor state corporate tax, excise tax, or sales tax.
- Donors get to deduct 501(c)3 contributions from their tax returns, making them more attractive than non-c3s.
- A 501(c)3 designation makes a group eligible for private foundation grants, since they are required by law to give at least a minimum to charities.
- 501(c)3s get lower postal rates on bulk mailings.
To qualify, a nonprofit group must be “operated exclusively for charitable, religious, scientific, or educational purposes,” according to the IRS.
But there is a huge no-no: politicking. According to the IRS:
Under the Internal Revenue Code, all 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….
[V]oter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.
RH Reality Check says it provides, “News, Analysis & Commentary.” I know of no other news and opinion organization in the U.S. that is a 501(c)3. (UPDATE: Reader Lisa has found a small number of c3 news sites. The difference is the minimal amount of opinion expressed on those sites is directed at policy, certainly not at throwing ad hominems at political candidates with which one disagrees or advising a political party how to shore up votes.)
It can’t be done. My partner and I explored organizing as a 501(c)3 when incorporating a few years back and realized we couldn’t do it. We couldn’t avoid having an opinion about the political process without gutting one of the very reasons for our existence.
Campaign Finance understands that a 501(c)3 designation “would essentially make it impossible for newspapers to do any political reporting. After all, an article that is critical or supportive of Congressman Barney Frank or Senator John McCain could easily be interpreted as an attempt to influence their next elections.”
RH Reality Check and I got into a tweet tussle on this topic Saturday…
Despite its bravado, RH Reality Check must have actually checked with its “actual lawyers,” because the obviously politicized headline I was tweeting in reference to…
was changed today…
No worries. I obviously kept a screen shot. And a few more.
Another RH tweet indicated it expects to continue receiving some amount of funding from Ted Turner’s United Nations Foundation…
I did some checking and found something I wish I’d known five years ago. That is, the UNF is also a 501(c)3.
So all these years UNF has apparently been violating IRS nonprofit guidelines by funding the obviously political RH Reality Check as one of its affiliates. I don’t know if something can be done about this retroactively. Am checking.
But one thing I know: UNF funding of RH Reality Check from here on out should be in question. UNF can’t fund a politically motivated organization.
Another thing I know: RH Reality Check’s has to decide whether it wants to stop taking sides in the political process or keep its 501(c)3 status. From here on out I’m now taking my cues from Barry Lynn.
Even today RH doesn’t get it, posting an article by Amanda Marcotte giving advice to Democrats on how to retain the pro-abortion female vote.