"Uncle Tom" redux?
Interesting story in this morning's Salt Lake Tribune, reporting that the Salt Lake County Republican Party has formally complained to the Internal Revenue Service, alleging officials of the NAACP's Salt Lake chapter have jeopardized that organization's tax-exempt status by actively recruiting opposition to the state senate candidacy of Salt Lake County GOP red-neck poster boy Chris Buttars. From this morning's story:
The head of the Salt Lake County Republican Party says officials of the NAACP's Salt Lake chapter violated the organization's nonprofit status by vowing to help defeat Utah Sen. Chris Buttars after the senator made racially offensive remarks.Regarding the merits, the IRS provides online information which we believe to be instructive on general standards applied to the pertinent 501(4)(c) compliance issues:
Party chairman James Evans said he sent a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service on Friday, asking the agency to review the Salt Lake chapter's actions.
Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake chapter of the NAACP, did not return messages left on her cell phone Friday, but told KCPW radio that the group focuses on issues, not candidates.
"We seek people that support the work of civil rights organizations like the NAACP, and we can do that. That's what has been said and that's what we will do," said Williams.
In February, Buttars said of a school construction bill: “This baby is black, I'll tell you. It's a dark, ugly thing.” Williams called for Buttars' resignation. He refused, claimed a “hate lynch mob” was after him, and vowed to run for re-election, prompting Williams to promise to work to recruit and support an opponent for Buttars.
The Salt Lake chapter is organized as a nonprofit under section 501(c)(4) of the law for social welfare organizations. Such groups, according to IRS publications, are permitted to engage in political activity, as long as it is not the group's primary purpose.
But Evans says that Williams' activity goes too far, even if they are a 501(c)(4).
“Actively trying to recruit someone to run against a candidate, I think, crosses that line,” he said.
He said he doesn't know the extent of the group's activity - only that Williams said publicly they were going to defeat Buttars. But he said the IRS would be able to find out if it investigates.
To be tax-exempt as a social welfare organization described in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 501(c)(4), an organization must not be organized for profit and must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare. [...].Even taking the above language into consideration, would be impossible for anyone to draw any firm and final conclusions about the merits of the Salt Lake GOP's complaint at this juncture. Still, it seems clear that IRS regulations generally provide 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations (such as the NAACP) fairly broad latitude for engagement in political activity, so long as such activity is not a "primary organizational activity." And notably, our morning googling reveals that IRS guidelines apparently provide no specific prohibitions against recruitment of political candidates.
To be operated exclusively to promote social welfare, an organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements).[...].
The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity. [Emphasis added].
We're thus going to go out on a limb and predict the the SLCGOP's complaint will amount to zero, zich and nada upon its ultimate investigation by the IRS. Given the Salt Lake NAACP's engagement in its demonstrably wide array of civil rights causes and activities, we believe the SLCGOP's argument that this war-horse civil rights organization's peripheral engagement in the Senate 10 race amounts to "crossing the line" into "primary" activity demonstrates the deepest depth of ludicrousness.
Of course, the lodging of the SLCGOP's IRS complaint isn't really about a good-faith question regarding NAACP compliance with IRS provisions anyway, eh, gentle readers? It seems fairly clear to us what today's story is all about. The SLCGOP lodged a complaint and apparently sent out a press release. County GOP Chair James Evans did a subsequent interview with the SLTrib's Robert Gehrke. The transmittal and publicizing of this complaint was plainly designed for political effect. The SLCGOP is stuck with a highly-vulnerable candidate in Chris Buttars; and the Salt Lake County GOP has now pulled out all the stops. A frontal attack against the NAACP will no doubt play well for the voters in in Buttars' Senate District 10. The Salt Lake County GOP is now engaged in gutter politics. How ironic it is, we think, that a guy like party chairman James Evans stepped up to play the race card. We suppose that the SLCGOP executive committee thought this would be "cute."