A few thoughts this morning about the IRS scandal that broke earlier this week. Some background: A couple of “rogue” IRS staffers in the Cincinnati field office responsible for approving 501(c)(4) nonprofit registrations gave more attention to applications suspected to be “conservative” groups. They kept an eye out for terms like “Tea Party” on forms and either delayed those approvals or denied them altogether. The IRS inspector general found that this was the doing of a few “rogue” employees, not a directive handed down from superiors or President Obama. The head of the IRS still turned in his resignation earlier in the week.
First, it goes without (a whole lot of) saying that if IRS staffers were to keep an eye on 501(c)(4) applications, they should have applied the same scrutiny across all applications. They can’t single out groups with certain buzzwords in the name. It’s not a good governmental policy and it’s also a very easy way to get caught.
Also, looking at the whole realm of campaign finance reform, looking more closely at applicants for nonprofit status can be a good thing, if applied equally. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, most new political spending came from nonprofit groups with few transparency requirements, mostly from groups with a clear “conservative” bent (Citizens United itself was an organization set up to prevent Hillary Clinton from being elected). Nonprofits receive tax benefits, and current tax law says that nonprofit status should not be given to groups looking to influence elections, writes David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
Another angle: does size matter? Ari Berman of the Nation writes that the IRS focused on the wrong groups (local organizations with small budgets), and that the agency should look into the bigger organizations that already engage in what can be considered “political spending.”
Although some have called for more scrutiny, the scandal could result in less oversight by the IRS, writes Alex Seitz-Wald in Salon. While some had hoped for the IRS to clarify its rules on nonprofit groups spending on politics, the scandal might make such a clarification “politically impossible.” David Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity writes that the scandal might even mean in influx of money for nonprofits, particularly those with a conservative tilt.
How did federally designated nonprofit organizations even reach the point of being unable to participate in elections? Colorlines looks at the history of nonprofit designations and finds that then-Senator Lyndon Johnson pushed for a change in law to remove nonprofits’ ability to participate in electioneering after multiple anti-communist and right-wing groups opposed his re-election to the Senate in 1954.
As it turns out, nonprofit tax policy has a lot to do with democracy — The scandal not only has great potential to lessen the public’s trust in an already disliked entity (after all, it was only a month ago that millions of Americans begrudgingly filed their tax returns), but could even go so far as to actually cause it damage.
Here are some additional links –
- ProPublica: Resources for investigating tax-exempt organizations
- ProPublica: Nonprofit Expolrer, search IRS 990 filings
- Colorlines: True the Vote says it was targeted by the IRS
- Politico: IRS Scandal: A timeline of conservative groups under scrutiny
- Center for Responsive Politics op-ed: The Real IRS Scandal
- Time: The Real IRS Scandal
Had a great time listening in to NCDD’s confab call this month on liberal-conservative dialogue. Unfortunately I had to jump off a little early, but there was still plenty of great conversation to be had. Here are some takeaways and other thoughts from the call:
- So much of cross-ideology participation has to do with how conversations and issues are framed. Folks from both sides have a tendency to incorporate their own viewpoints when advertising a discussion, or encouraging others to come in (IE: Everyone can participation in conversations about “social justice,” but some are turned off by the mere mention of the term “social justice.”). How can we be more open with how we discuss discussions?
- Just like we must consider the language we use in trying to be inclusive of those with other views, we must also consider who is moderating as well. If a trusted emissary brings the group together, the conversation will likely be more robust than if the conveners are one-sided in their stances. Here is a timeline of major liberal-conservative collaborations, via NCDD.
- People can spend at least some of their lives sheltered from others who share different viewpoints. When folks start to interact and have conversations with people who have seemingly opposing views, people find out that they actually like eachother. This is huge, and it prevents people from thinking that others are the essence of pure evil.
- Living Room Conversations is one model that allows people to have these sort of cross-ideology talks.
- The two speakers on the call, Jacob Hess and Phil Neisser collaborated on a book discussing their, at one time, unlikely friendship — You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong)
- Check out NCDD’s hackpad for the confab, which contains questions, thoughts, and links to other resources discussed on the call.
- Keep an eye on NCDD’s news page for other media from today’s confab as well
We’ve been discussing civility in many contexts, not just “red-blue” dialogue between regular folks, but also with regard to race and the media (such as the use of the “I-word”), and how a lack of civility inhibits the work of Congress. This sort of cross-ideological conversation needs to happen in order for us to have a strong democracy, because as everyone remains in their own silos, no discussion actually happens.
A HUGE thank you goes out to NCDD to making this conversation happen! We’re looking forward to thinking and talking and acting on this further.
Some good news on the federal front, with regard to voting rights. A pair of Congressmen have plans to introduce a Constitutional Amendment that would guarantee the right to vote. Congressmen Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Keith Ellison of Minnesota have drafted the amendment, via the Nation –
SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.
SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.
Earlier in May, the Tennesseean reported that Rep. Jim Cooper was also working on a “right to vote” amendment in the House, albeit in a potentially very off-color manner.
This is a welcome trend, and it echos a slight shift that we have seen on the state level this year. While (some) reps in Congress are looking towards guaranteeing the right to vote, the Brennan Center reports that eight bills that expand opportunities for eligible citizens to register and vote have passed at the state level. Brennan Center also reports that eight restrictive bills have passed, and while those should not be overlooked, the pendulum is swinging away from restrictive laws, considering the number that passed in 2011 and early 2012.
The importance of expanding voter access and registration opportunities cannot be understated. True, 2013 is not a major election year, but the laws passed now will have lasting effects on elections to come, and legislation proposed during election years has a greater tendency to be met with resistance with partisan intentions coming into play.
However, Jotaka Eaddy of NAACP notes that the voter suppression efforts aren’t letting up, and she is right. Despite the introduction of some access opportunities, efforts to restrict the vote are not going anywhere, and this will have consequences for the “rising American electorate,” made up largely of women, people of color, young folks, and those who are multiple of the above.
The consequences of successful efforts to suppress voting rights are dire for communities of color. With the United States projected to become a “majority-minority” nation for the first time in 2043, civic engagement in Black, brown and youth communities has never been more important. But without full and unfettered access to the ballot box, this rising electorate’s ability to fully participate in our democracy will be at stake.
We need immediate action from our leaders on voting rights. Thank you to the Congressmen who have worked on introducing these laws at the federal level, but with 50 different states administering 50 different sets of election laws, (and 13,000 voting districts at the local level nationwide) the work in the near term will be done on the state and local levels. While at least some of the future work will be dictated by how the Supreme Court rules on some voting rights cases this summer, states will have to decide for themselves whether they want to protect or dismantle the right to vote.
As well, the Boston Marathon bombings occupied our hearts and minds. There are certainly both lessons and quandaries to study here, as well as dangerous quicksand to avoid. While some tried to make a moment of national tragedy into political theater, mostly the conversation was thoughtful: immigration reform debaters mostly shunned the knee-jerk flailing about non-citizen threats (unlike the fate of the Dream Act in the wake of 9/11), and the conversation about balancing security with personal privacy and freedom has been balanced in spite of the tragedy. Consider the thoughtful response of the Police Chief in Boston: “I do not endorse actions which move Boston and our nation into a police state mentality, with surveillance cameras attached to every light pole in the city.” We should hope our values can withstand singular events, no matter how tragic.
As well, our nation has begun to distinguish between members of the Islamic faith, and perpetrators of violence. This might have been an easy moment to paint in broad strokes; with a few exceptions, we as a nation have not. A good sign.
This month our attention turns to the states, particularly North Carolina. While much of the country has stood aghast at the attacks on voting rights, North Carolina has been diligently on the attack. Stay tuned here as the Campaign hopes to bring you a more in-depth look at the happenings in the state.
Thank you for reading, as always. This month’s links are below the fold.
We’re really excited about the Conference on Volunteering and Service coming up from June 19-22 in Washington, D.C. National service remains a cornerstone of the democracy movement, and although federal programs have been mentioned in budget cuts, the conference will highlight the ways in which service strengthens communities, and will also give a forum for folks to present and discuss new ideas.
Check out the conference’s website, and read more about it from Points of Light below –
Don’t miss the world’s premier conference for nonprofit, government, corporate, education and faith based organizations. Convened by Points of Light, the Conference on Volunteering and Service offers a dynamic, meaningful learning experience through more than 150 focused workshops, large group plenaries and networking opportunities.
This year’s Conference will be held in Washington, D.C., June 19 – 22, 2013.
The values we share as citizens are more powerful than the issues that divide us. We believe that people are tired of political and cultural divisiveness and the sense of paralysis and powerlessness that comes with it. People want to do something that makes the world better, particularly their corner of it. This Conference will be about the power of service to bridge differences and bring people together to do what people the world over do best – help one another.
The Conference on Volunteering and Service is a don’t-miss experience for social entrepreneurs to exchange ideas about what’s working and generate new ideas to create a brighter path for the future.You’ll learn how to leverage the power of individuals to address critical issues in their communities.
Expert presenters will engage participants in hands-on sessions to explore topics relevant to volunteerism and service.
Early bird registration rates expire Friday, April 26. Learn more and register at http://www.volunteeringandservice.org
Our friends at NCDD will be hosting their next confab call on Wednesday, May 15 at 2:00pm. Their guests this month will be Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess, who will be discussing bringing liberals and conservatives together in dialogue. Deliberation and discussion, particularly amongst those who hold different viewpoints on an issue, remains a cornerstone of our democracy. It will be great to hear what these Neisser and Hess have to say on the issue. We’ll be tuning in.
Read more below, which includes information on how to sign up –
Join us for our next NCDD Confab call on Wednesday, May 15th from 2:00 to 3:30 EST. May’s featured NCDDers are Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess, who will lead a discussion on the current status of liberal-conservative and transpartisan dialogue, and how we might work together to expand this area of dialogue and deliberation further.
Jacob is a Mormon, a community psychologist, and a devoted conservative, while Phil is an atheist, a leftist, and a college professor. Yet in 2009, after meeting at an NCDD conference, they embarked on a two-year conversation about the issues that divide them. The result is the book “You’re not as Crazy as I Thought,” an entertaining dialogue about power, government, media, religion, morality, gender roles, sexual orientation, race, and more.
Jacob Hess, Ph.D. is now co-founder of All of Life. Phil Neisser, Ph.D., is Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and Chair of the Department of Politics at SUNY Potsdam.
NCDD’s “Confab calls” are opportunities for members of the NCDD community to connect with each other, hear about exciting projects in our field, and explore our field’s most pressing challenges. We hope all NCDDers with an interest in how dialogue and deliberation can bridge the partisan divide will join us for this confab!
Register for the May 15th confab today to secure your spot.
On May 7 in Bronx, NY, community groups from across the city will be gathering to discuss immigration reform and its impact on the African community. In addition to the community discussion, there will also be an opportunity for health screenings and legal assistance. Check out the flier below for more information.
When: Tuesday, May 7 at 5:00pm (sign up for screenings and register at 4:30pm)
Where: Bronx Community College, Colston Hall lower level, 2155 University Ave (at 181st Street)
Host organizations include Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, African Communities Together, Bronx Community College, United African Congress, African Services Committee, and the National Council of Ghanaian Organizations.
- Hear from experts about changes in immigration law.
- Talk about issues with your fellow African immigrants.
- Find out if you qualify for the “Deferred Action” program, which provides work authorization and deportation relief.
- Get FREE immigration screenings and referrals from nonprofit immigration attorneys.
- Get FREE health screenings and referrals, including testing for hepatitis, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Related: From last week, a woman from Africa talks about her experiences being undocumented on BET.