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Matt Browner Hamlin

Matt Browner Hamlin

Posted: February 13, 2007 07:17 PM

More Potential Catholic League IRS Problems


Jeffrey Feldman has previously documented a possible violation by the Catholic League of its 501(c)(3) status based on Donohue's attempts to intervene in a political campaign. That may be true, but it's also possible that Donohue has put his organization in hot water by putting false information in his IRS filings. The Catholic League's IRS 990 filing for tax year 2005 claims to have spent no money on lobbying expenditures. Page 13 of the filing asks (PDF link):

Part VI-B Lobbying Activity by Nonelecting Public Charities

During the year, did the organization attempt to influence national, state or local legislation, including any attempt to influence public opinion on a legislative matter or referendum through the use of:

a. Volunteers
b. Paid staff or management
c. Media advertisements
d. Mailings to members, legislators, or the public
e. Publications or published or broadcast statements
f. Grants to other organizations for lobbying purposes
g. Direct contact with legislators, their staffs, government officials, or a legislative body
h. Rallies, demonstrations, seminars, conventions, speeches, lectures, or any other means

The Catholic League filing -- signed by William Donohue -- answers "no" to all of these questions. This is the same answer that Donohue gave in 2004 and 2003.

Unfortunately for Donohue and his Catholic League, that was not an accurate answer. He repeatedly spoke out on TV, in the press, and to his email lists on a wide range of political topics at the state and federal level. He wrote to politicians and argued for particular courses of action with regards to judicial nominees and even lobbied for a constitutional amendment at a gathering that included at least one congressman. Everything that I link to and quote below is from the Catholic League's press release archive.

In March, 2005 Donohue sent out a number of releases on the Terri Schiavo case, including a call for Florida "lawmakers [to] quickly pass a Medicaid reform bill that has a rider allowing food and water for Terri Schiavo." Donohue's appeal came the same day a Florida judge ordered the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube.

In September, 2005 Donohue weighed in heavily on how he thought Congress should allocate aid money following Hurricane Katrina: by dumping FEMA and giving the money to churches. Federal aid was an immediate legislative concern following Hurricane Katrina.

Donohue launched repeated, full-throated defenses of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, a Catholic. Not only did Donohue try to set the terms for questions posed to Roberts by the Senate, but he tried to determine Robert's answers for him.

The same was true when Samuel Alito was nominated to the Supreme Court. Donohue saw the entire process as a referendum on the competitive balance of Jews and Catholics on the Court. Donohue endorsed Alito's position on abortion, saying "We at the Catholic League like nice Catholic boys who don't believe in abortion."

At Justice Sunday II, Donohue called for the passage of a constitutional amendment to remove the Supreme Court's authority to overturn an act of Congress. "Putting strict constructionists on the Supreme Court may help thwart the forces of judicial activism, but it isn't enough. What is needed is structural reform: the Supreme Court needs to be revamped, and that is why we need a constitutional amendment." Justice Sunday II was attended by Congressman Tom DeLay.

I have only looked at the Catholic League's 2005 Form 990 in comparison to statements made by Donohue for that calendar year. I don't see any need to look at previous years' statements when the case against Donohue is so clear-cut. This is by no means a comprehensive analysis of Donohue's stated positions on Catholic League letterhead, though I'd wager that Donohue's propensity to inject himself into political debates about federal and state policy was not a New Year's resolution made at the start of 2005. I am also not a tax law expert, though I spoke with an attorney this afternoon who concurred that Donohue's statements -- all made on Catholic League letterhead -- were evidence of incorrect answers on the Catholic League's 990 filings.

The Bush administration has sent the IRS to review a church's tax-exempt status for far less than this. The Catholic League should not be allowed to lobby with impunity while receiving the protections of a non-profit charity.

Update:

From the comments, Phoenix Woman has a full set of instructions for filing a complaint with the IRS about the Catholic League violating their 501(c)(3) status by trying to interfere with a political campaign.

Download Form 3949-A from www.IRS.gov. Fill out with the pertinent info on Donahue's org under #2 (the "business name" side). (Put "N/A" in the individual-name fields under #1.) Here's the info:

2. Business Name: Catholic League
2a-b. Address: 450 Seventh Avenue, 34th Floor, New York, NY 10123

2c. Emp. ID Num: 23-7279981

2d. Principal Bus. Act.: Non-Profit Political Advocacy

Skip to 4. Check off "Other".

5a.(Describe violation)

"In his role as President of the Catholic League, a 501(c)(3) organization, William Donohue made national television appearances calling for the firing by the John Edwards for President campaign of two campaign employees. The Catholic League has issued press releases on Feb. 9 (http://tinyurl.com/2dx4h4) and Feb. 12 (http//tinyurl.com/ywrcr5) of 2007 specifically pressuring the Edwards campaign to fire these two employees, thus violating FS-2006-17, which instructs 501(c)(3) groups not to intervene in political campaigns. Donohue's group has also done similar interventions against John Kerry's political campaign in 2004; On Feb. 7, 2007, Donohue boasted to Tucker Carlson of MSNBC that he caused two Kerry campaign employees to be fired (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17049495/). Again, this violates FS-2006-17."

5e -- Provide cites.

Then finish w/your name/address/etc. at the bottom.

Note: Phoenix Woman's procedures are with regards to a different subject that what I have posted about here. Jeffrey Feldman and Lindsay Beyerstein have detailed looks at how Donohue's push for the firing of Edwards campaign staff members violates their 501(c)(3) status. My post here doesn't address those issues, so I suggest you visit Feldman and Beyerstein's posts to get the full background.

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