Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
PennFuture and Conservation Voters of PA, two tax-exempt environmental film-flam groups, have decided to partner, making a mockery of charity taxation rules.
Two radical Pennsylvania-based “environmental” groups are not exactly merging; but almost. One group is PennFuture, which gave rise to such luminaries as John Quigley (fired as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection), John Hanger (left the state, former DEP Secretary, ran for governor last time, lost, supports legalizing pot), and Cindy Dunn (currently Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources). PennFuture is tax exempt, yet it routinely engages in political activity in violation of its IRS 501(c)(3) status. The other group is Conservation Voters of PA, a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization affiliated with a political action committee (PAC). This partnership makes total mockery of IRS rules on political activities by charities.
The two groups are combining certain portions of their operations — “policy, advocacy, and legal resources” — in an attempt to “hold legislators accountable, mobilize voters, and shine a spotlight on candidates’ records on clean air, water and energy issues.” Our view is that their organizations’ membership and donations are dwindling and this is two failing organizations clinging to each other so they don’t slip beneath the waves into oblivion. Meanwhile, they’re fleecing the taxpayers and flouting their contempt for the IRS rules that are supposed to limit lobbying by charities.
How can a tax exempt group like PennFuture, specifically barred from engaging in significant political activity, merge with a group formed to engage in political activity? They can’t. The law means nothing to these people — absolutely nothing and they get away with it because no one challenges them.
Here’s the “good news” announcement from PennFuture, attempting to put lipstick on the failing-radical-environmental-organization pig (emphasis added):
Two of the state’s leading environmental organizations, PennFuture and Conservation Voters of PA, announced the formation of a strategic alliance enhancing the groups’ power to respond to today’s unprecedented anti-environmental political climate at the federal and state levels.
By combining the policy, advocacy and legal resources of PennFuture with the political strength and skill of Conservation Voters of PA, the partnership expands the ability of both organizations to promote policies that advance clean energy and protect natural resources. Together, the groups will bring expanded capacity to hold legislators accountable, mobilize voters, and shine a spotlight on candidates’ records on clean air, water and energy issues.
“The deeply flawed and corrupted governance that we face at the national and state levels makes progress on climate change, environmental protection and energy reform nearly impossible without bringing to account the lawmakers who cheerfully stand up for the rights of polluters,” PennFuture President and CEO Larry Schweiger said. “This new alliance with Conservation Voters of PA brings teeth to PennFuture’s work, creating a new, more powerful force for environmental protection.”
“The team at Conservation Voters of PA is eager to combine its political experience to PennFuture’s legal and policy expertise,” said Josh McNeil, executive director at Conservation Voters of PA. “Together, these organizations represent more than 80,000 members in Pennsylvania. Together, we bring to the table some of the state’s toughest environmental lawyers, our best advocates, our most connected organizers, and our largest pool of environmental PAC money.”
Conservation Voters of PA will remain a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization, but its staff will take on additional roles in the new Civic Engagement program at PennFuture, designed to increase the number of citizens playing an active role in our democracy and in environmental protections. PennFuture staff and board members will play an increasing role in CVPA’s advocacy and accountability programs, including the Pennsylvania Environmental Scorecard. The team will develop a common policy agenda, build staff capacity, work to hold legislators accountable, and win fights to protect clean air, defend safe drinking water, and promote new sources of clean energy.
“Given the unprecedented challenges facing even the most important environmental protections, those of us who stand for a healthy environment must stand shoulder to shoulder like never before,” said Caren Glotfelty, Board Chair of Conservation Voters of PA. “We’re up against some of the world’s largest corporations and their political puppets, and though the vast majority of Americans agree with us, we need to build large-scale organizations if we’re going to win.”
“The time for compromising our natural world is long overdue. We are faced with unprecedented environmental challenges and a very short time line to correct them,” said Char Magaro, Board Chair of PennFuture. “This partnership is a necessary step to combat climate change and the exploitation of PA’s natural resources.”
PennFuture is leading the transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania and beyond. We are protecting our air, water and land, and empowering citizens to build sustainable communities for future generations. For more information, visit www.pennfuture.org.
Conservation Voters of PA is a 501(c)(4) organization with an affiliated PAC, that lobbies legislators and brings a difference set of tools to the protection of Pennsylvania’s environment. For more information, visit www.conservationpa.org.
Editor’s Note: I’m sick to death of what appears to be horrendous abuse of the IRS tax-exemption rules. It needs to be investigated. PennFuture is a 501(c)(3) “charity” that’s not supposed to doing anything more than token lobbying. It enjoys tax-exemption on two levels based on that promise; first, as a corporation, and, secondly, as a recipient of donations that are tax-exempt for the giver.
Such tax-exempt donations, of course, allow givers to shift taxes they might have paid on monies spent for political purposes to everyone else. Political donations to organizations organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code are not tax-exempt even though the organizations are. The Conservation Voters of PA donation page, in fact, states “Contributions or gifts to Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania are not tax deductible.” Therefore, what the two groups appear to be doing here is mixing the two sets of activities, one tax-exempt and one not, in such a way as to obliterate the differences. If so, this needs to be halted.
It’s also worth pointing out a couple of other things. First, a major funder of PennFuture, of course, is the William Penn Foundation, a private foundation that is not supposed to be doing any lobbying whatsoever. Yet, in 2016, it gave a group called the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund $373,500 to “improve the ability of conservation organizations working in the Delaware River watershed to reach new audiences and solicit support for programs, fundraising, and advocacy.” It also gave a grant to the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Education Fund of $410,000 to “elevate conservation issues affecting the Delaware River Watershed as a defining topic in the 2017 NJ gubernatorial race.” Tell me that isn’t lobbying.
Secondly, when I try find a 990 return for “Conservation Voters of Pa” a/k/a “Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania Action Fund,” I find nothing. It’s not listed on either the Guidestar or ProPublica site. If I look at the latest League of Conservation Voters, Inc. (a Rockefeller group) 990 return, I do find a donation of $34,500 to “Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania” which is identified as a 501(c)(4) group with a Federal EIN No. of 27-0880179. Googling this number turns up nothing, though. A search of Pennsylvania corporations indicates there is such a non-profit entity, but it hasn’t filed an annual statement since April 3, 2014 when it claimed its principal offices were here:
So, what exactly is this group, other than a tiny shill organization for the Rockefellers that will now be effectively merged with the supposed PennFuture charity?