Tag Archives: Texas Legislature

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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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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What do Pro-Life People Actually “Do?”

…and we’re back.  A certain slate of classes at our beloved Baylor Law, commonly referred to as Practice Court, has quite literally eaten up my existence these past 10-12 weeks.  Finals are over, sleep is more, and I once again have the chance to write!

In response to a previous post about scholarships for pregnant and parenting students, an educated, “abortion-access-is-a-right” acquaintance of mine privately expressed her approval of such scholarships. The acquaintance commented, “Now, THAT’S more of what we need.” While confident the comment was a good-faith attempt at building discourse, her comment nonetheless disappointed me.  Why? Because it made me realize she really has no idea what the Texas pro-life community is all about.  

Pro-life people are DAILY helping women and families across the country overcome the practical implications surrounding an unplanned pregnancy.  They just help quietly.

There’s a constant tug of war, both on individual and aggregate levels, between humility and the desire to combat the myths of what a normal “pro-life” person actually does.  A good segment of the pro-life community engages in helping families in need as a reflection of Christ’s love. We help others because that is how we are called to live out our faith, and we are instructed to be humble while doing it. Undoubtedly, this humility aspect impacts the level of information generated on the multitude of loving works precipitated by pro-life Americans.

And of course, a major factor in lack of coverage is that mainstream media isn’t going to actually report anything awesome coming from a group identified as “pro-life.”

But here, in my little corner of the world, I’M going to start talking all about the amazing things pro-lifers whom I know are doing within their own communities. I know I’ve got a few Facebook friends and Twitter followers who disagree with me, so maybe this ongoing project will bear some fruit 😉

Such remarkable outpourings of pure love are directly attributable to people who diligently give to strangers.  The pro-life lawyers and doctors who give financially to scholarships at A&M and SFA.  The retired teachers who sacrifice to give to young families.  The businesses run by pro-life people who donate plates and napkins, cokes and bread for scholarship fundraisers.  It’s the college students who give of their time to organize 5ks and BBQ dinners to raise money. The college students who hold community baby showers outside Walmart. The ladies who pick up a package of diapers every time they go to the grocery store, so that new mom who calls the local pregnancy resource center can get the supplies she needs.  The many, many (x1000) families who adopt.  The many families who open their homes to a pregnant teenager in their community.  I once met an elderly woman in East Texas who still crocheted tons of blankets each year just to give to expecting moms.

That’s love, folks.  

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