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The Battle Over 501(c)4s Continue…..

Many people are at least vaguely aware of the 2012 IRS scandal that caught Lois Lerner, Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, disclosing to a room full of D.C. legal minds that the IRS had been systematically slowing down applications from groups that “sounded” Tea Party in nature.  While that surely has gotten media attention, what is playing out behind closed doors in Texas may have a much more immediate impact here at home.

Many 501(c)3s organizations individuals are familiar with also have a 501(c)4 arm, especially those who deal with broad social issues, such as abortion (both Planned Parenthood and Texas Right to Life operate under both entities),  criminal justice reform and ministering to inmates, etc. The current popular term for 501(c)4 operations has been dubbed “dark money.”

Generally, if John Smith donates $1500 to a 501(c)3 organization,  John can deduct the amount of his donation on his income tax returns. If John instead donates $1500 to a 501(c)4 organization, he cannot deduct that amount.  What is the difference between the two? The difference comes down to the theory behind both options: the government is okay with subsidizing (by not collecting income taxes from donors on donated amounts) organizations who engage in charitable actions, i.e. scientific research, religious entities, helping children in the foster care system. These organizations are classified as 501(c)3s.  The government is not okay with subsidizing political advocacy.  Thus, 501(c)3s cannot engage in much political work.  Note, 501(c)3s can perform a minimal amount of lobbying government for reform, but how much lobbying a group wants to do usually distinguishes between forming a (c)4 versus a (c)3.  Also note, lobbying does not equal “campaigns” for elected office.  In the discussion, there must be a caveat recognizing there is some newly-revived tension between the definition of a (c)4 given in the United States Code versus how the IRS by rule defines such entities.  Such a battle is very much outside the scope of this post!

Lobbying is necessary to an informed decision-making body (see future post on “Why lobbyists aren’t really that bad.”).  A group who wants to do a substantial amount of lobbying on any issue (from abortion, physician-assisted suicide, saving the animals, to stricter gun laws) cannot be a 501(c)3.  They can however, become a 501(c)4.  These federal IRS designations only cover tax-related issues; hence, states can still pass legislation that affects the practical workings of these entities.  Some in the Texas Legislature are attempting just that.

In the most recent legislative session (ending Summer 2013), both the Senate and the Texas House passed SB 346, a bill that would require Texas entities  to disclose the names of their donors who contributed more than $1000 once the organization spent $25,000 in a calendar year.  While not specifically defining 501(c)4s, these entities would be covered under the new law.  Due to the lack of a definition, interests on both sides of the aisle were hesitant about the bill’s applicability, leading to a failed recall attempt in the Senate.  Despite passage in both chambers, the bill was vetoed by Governor Perry.  However, today the House State Affairs will hold an interim hearing on “studying the Election Code…what types of groups are exempt from reporting requirements…how to make the political process more transparent.” 

Making government more transparent sounds like a laudable effort, right?  However, is “government transparency” a euphemism for “finding out who is funding efforts to unseat me?” The success of certain grass-roots groups (ahem, NETTP) and the line-up of those opposing anonymity suggest the latter.  Lois aside, the IRS made a policy decision – individuals have a choice: get a tax deduction with no politics or be politically active through your finances, and receive no government subsidies.  To many donors, anonymity in supporting their beliefs is worthwhile over obtaining a tax deduction.  If we take away that selling point, funding of Constitutionally-protected free political speech initiatives will likely yield to supporting only 501(c)3s.  Both are needed. 

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Beyond Birth…Waco’s Care Net to provide transitional housing for expectant moms.

What’s going on in the Waco pro-life community is exciting, and truly a blessing.  We’ve seen  the circumstances that make expectant moms feel as if they are backed into a corner, that the one choice she really does not want to make is her only choice.  Due to the grace of God moving through the Central Texas community, Care Net’s Board of Directors and their generous donors are seeking to change those circumstances, truly helping families break out of the chains of poverty and confidently welcome their children into this world.

For over 30 years, Care Net of Central Texas has been on the front lines of protecting life in the Waco area.   Ran by Deborah McGregor, a pro-life attorney turned pregnancy resource director, Care Net offers free pregnancy tests, sonograms, and tangible resources for expectant parents in the form of diapers, maternity clothes, and other baby supplies.   But this year, Care Net is embarking on a capital campaign to go further by building a Pregnancy Support Center and Guesthouse.

This 10,000 square foot facility in Waco will consist of a dining room, a family room, full-service kitchen, laundry room, a mom and baby store, a playground, classroom, nursery, and eight guestroom suites.  These eight suites will provide ample room for eight women and their children per night who are in transition and find themselves without a home.   The center will also contain a manager suite, which will allow around-the-clock employees to be available for the women and children who are staying at the center.

The total cost of the project is $2.4 million. To date, Care Net has raised $1.3 million.  Once Care Net reaches the $1.9 million mark, the project will be the recipient of a $250,000 grant, which will reach the end of costs for the Center.  A further $200,000 will be needed to fund a maintenance endowment.

Scott Salmans, Waco resident and Care Net’s capital campaign chair, had this to say about the project: “This is not a government program.  It is community as it should be: The Body of Christ stepping up to meet the needs of those in crisis in a loving and nurturing way.”  I couldn’t agree more.

 To make a financial donation to the Center or for more information, please contact Deborah McGregor at Deborah@carenetofcentraltexas.org .

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Hey Trib, it’s really “Texas Right to Life’s REFUSAL to play politics…”

Working on and off for Texas Right to Life since 2010, both as a student in their fellowship program and as a lobbyist,  I find this “controversy” surrounding Texas Right to Life’s scorecards BEYOND ridiculous.  Just today, Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock had a Tribune article lambasting TRTL, claiming he “was given a subpar score.” He scored a 96%!!  From reading the scorecard, the lost points were from a failure to co-author any versions of the 20-week pain bill or the 4-part Omnibus bill (HB 2).  Scores as high as 143 were received by legislators because of bonus points- points for co-authoring other bills on TRTL’s widely-circulated legislative agenda, something the Chairman did not do.

What makes a good political advocacy group? One that stands by its word, one that can be trusted by its members, elected officials, and legislative staffers alike to do what they proclaim to be their goals.   An effective and honest political advocacy group strives to serve its membership, to be the collective voice of their members at the Capitol.  The current “criticism” from the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) against Texas Right to Life (TRTL) highlights that TRTL is indeed one of these groups.

Texas Right to Life’s mission is to “protect life from fertilization until natural death.”  Protecting the unborn and protecting the ill, disabled, and elderly from death imposed on them by hospital boards, against their families’ wishes, and against a patient’s advance directives.  Every candidate seeking an endorsement from TRTL must undergo an extensive screening process.  Only those candidates who demonstrate and commit to BOTH of these principles earn an endorsement, and only endorsed candidates receive resources from TRTL to help win their campaign.

The New York Times recently published an article written by Texas Tribune writer, Becca Aaronson, regarding the fight last legislative session about hospital treatment in Texas. The article highlights the difference stances taken by Texas Right to Life and the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB). Repeatedly, the TCCB has attacked TRTL who negatively scored legislators that supported an expansion of involuntary medical care termination.  TCCB’s argument comes from the fact that some of these negatively scored legislators helped pass HB 2, (that filibuster bill, remember?).  According to TCCB, as long as an elected official does half of what they promised, you should look the other way.

Scoring actions on SB 303 and HB 1444 did not take legislators by surprise; I cannot even begin to tell you how many weeks, hours, and blisters from high heels were spent on educating legislators, their staff, and their individual districts on TRTL’s problems with the bills, coupled with warnings that those actions would be negatively reflected come scorecard time.  My personal opinion – I think legislators thought TRTL was bluffing, that TRTL would succumb to pressure from politicians to ignore the unfathomable blunder come campaign time.  But this situation is just another demonstration that you can believe what TRTL says, whether you like it or not.

Yes, HB 2 was a great stride for women and babies of Texas. Yes, HB 2 will probably be a great stride for our nation, and the pro-life community is thankful for the work done (going to ignore the whole “had to call a special session” angle for now).

But advocacy groups aren’t supposed to bend to fit the people in office. That would be called a campaign. And they certainly don’t exist to keep other advocacy groups happy. If you are a voter who just wants to see whether your elected official voted to protect the unborn, Texas Right to Life’s scorecards are broken down in a way that you can easily see the distinction. That’s what scorecards are for – to help inform voters on candidates’ stances, not to all hold hands and sing kumbaya when you break a campaign promise.

If Texas Right to Life didn’t stand by their decision to include SB 303/HB 1444 votes and authorship in scorecards, they would have been letting down their membership, letting down the views of the people they represent, like my family.  That Texas Right to Life refused to play politics, I’m grateful.

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I Wish Ted Seago Represented Me

You can tell a lot about a man by the qualities of his children. Having worked with two of Ted Seago’s children, one as my boss and one who routinely responded to me as “yes ma’am,” and knowing his wife and daughter-in-love, Ted Seago’s family is a walking example of the impact a principled, hard-working, Christ-serving man can have on a group of people.  I hope the voters of House District 16 will allow Ted the opportunity to have that kind of an impact on the rest of our lawmakers in Austin come March.

For two legislative sessions, I watched Ted and Johnnie Seago volunteer countless days and nights urging lawmakers to stand on the principles they campaigned on.  I watched the Seagos invest in young people by bringing young ladies from their church to witness history being made at the Capitol.   I watched the Seagos instill the importance of being involved in your local government to all around them.

As a resident of Liberty County, I won’t get the opportunity to vote for Dr. Seago.  However, as Ted and Johnnie routinely do all they can to make their part of Texas a little better, I pray the voters of Montgomery County, and the rest of HD 16, will help the Seagos make an even bigger impact.

Send Ted to Austin, Montgomery County. You’ll be glad you did. 🙂

 

 

 

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