Saturday, May 17, 2008

Gutter Politics From the Salt Lake County GOP

The SLCGOP goes public with its flakey IRS complaint
"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.
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.
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:

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. [...].
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].
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.

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."

Comments, anyone?


Ted Underhill said...

The NAACP hasn't jeopardized their tax-exempt status by "vowing to help defeat Utah Sen. Chris Buttars." That's just more Trib propaganda, per what you'd expect from any Utah newspaper.

Actually, they're violating their own mission statement and the organization's Constitution.

One of the objectives outlined in the NAACP Constitution is: "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of all citizens." Endorsing one candidate over another leaves a significant part of the Utah constituency behind. The main idea of equality is that it leaves no one behind (especially a significant part of one). So, the organization's endorsement of any candidate undermines a fundamental mission objective of the NAACP.

RudiZink said...

Interesting nuance, Ted:

"One of the objectives outlined in the NAACP Constitution is: "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of all citizens."

That's broad, general and relatively vague language, of course, subject to construction, I think. And to construe this language, we need to look at the NAACP's course of conduct through its entire history. I'd suggest that promoting racial equality is one of the prime components of the NAACP's "mission." Wouldn't you?

"Endorsing one candidate over another leaves a significant part of the Utah constituency behind."

If by that you're proposing that the NAACP's core documents prohibit political action in circumstance where one candidate is arguably a racial bigot... I'd say your argument has an uphill fight.

Thanks for chiming in however. All points of view are welcome here at Weber County Forum.

Curmudgeon said...


I will take the SLCRP complaint seriously when they amend it to demand that the IRS strip tax-exempt status from every Church that endorses Republican candidates and their agendas from the pulpit or by circulating campaign lit to their congregations. But not until then.

Lester said...

Okay Ted: Here's a hypothetical. Let's suppose we have David Duke and Mother Theresa running against each other in a Utah Senate election race.

Are we to suppose that you believe that the Utah NAACP should just keep their mouths shut?

Monotreme said...

We all know the predominant religion hereabouts never involves itself with local, state or national politics.

James Evans said...

If you're insinuating that I am "Uncle Tom", I'm not!

Consider me "Uncle James."

danny said...

Anytime the NAACP gets in trouble for political activity (which they're not supposed to do but it's about the only thing they DO do) it's a good time.

As far as transit, I like Godfrey's routes (up 30th or 36th) the best, and so do my neighbors IRL.

I realize people want to give East Central access to it, but I feel giving Washington Blvd the maximum access is a good idea. Godfrey's comment that we are trying to do multiple use in downtown but not along Harrison is correct, IMO.

But the idea of involving the community instead of Godfrey doing his usual condescending rammit job is the best news of all.

Keisha said...

James Evans is an extremely poor example of the political "black man" in Utah. He answers to his "masta" and does whatever his puppetmasters want.

Shame on the Salt Lake County Republicans!

dan s. said...

As a Sierra Club officer I'm very familiar with the rules for 501c4 organizations. We endorse candidates but we don't use club resources to communicate our endorsements to the general public or for any other public electioneering. For some campaigns we also work through an affiliated PAC that does its own fundraising. Contributions to the Sierra Club (or our PAC) are not tax deductible. If the NAACP is also a 501c4 then it is free to conduct quite a bit of political activity, short of outright electioneering.

The rules for churches are supposed to be more strict than for 501c4's, because contributions to churches are tax deductible.

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