It’s way past time the Internal Revenue Service revoked the tax-exemption of the Clean Air Council, which is nothing more than a fractivist political outfit.
The pattern of collusion among William Penn Foundation and Heinz Endowments grantees to fight natural gas development is clear. The Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council, together with the Delaware Riverkeeper (Povertykeeper), PennFuture and State Impact clearly coordinate their attacks on behalf of the gentry class.
There’s also no question the Clean Air Council and Riverkeeper are anything but the charitable institutions they claim to be. Rather, they are primarily political organizations, community organizers if you will, who are paid to work against the public interest by disrupting public discussion, all the while falsely claiming to act on behalf of that same public. Neither should enjoy tax-exempt status for donation purposes as they are overtly political and, in the Clean Air Council’s case, they aren’t even reporting huge chunks of their lobbying.
I’ve been making the general case about the tax-exemption these organizations for some time now, but a recent incident at a Delaware River Basin Commission meeting makes the specific case against the Clean Air Council crystal clear. You can watch a video of it (proudly promoted on the Delaware Riverkeeper Facebook page) here:
You’ll notice the following frame at the beginning of the clip, which the Delaware Riverkeeper happily tells us is Sam Koplinka-Loehr from the Clean Air Council, its sister shill organization funded by the Heinz Endowments and William Penn Foundation. Sam, a serial protestor from a family of serial protestors from Ithaca, New York, serves as “Shale Gas Organizer” for the Clean Air Council. Maya van Rossum and Sam write joint letters and do joint disturbances, proudly proclaiming how they got escorted out of a recent meeting of John Quigley’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, just like Sam did in this case.
It was all done to get headlines, of course, and it’s hard to feel sorry for Quigley, a PennFuture guy who was still part of their well-funded foundation team just a few months ago, or the DRBC which itself has relied upon the William Penn Foundation puppet-masters for funding. But, what exactly is a “Shale Gas Organizer,” anyway? Well, when the Clean Air Council first solicited prospective for the position in 2011 it was advertised as a temporary position for a “Marcellus Shale Organizer” the function of which was as follows (emphasis added):
Function: To assist in Clean Air Council’s (CAC) efforts to reduce air pollution from Marcellus Shale activity. This position is a temporary position.
CAC is concerned about the air pollution impacts from Marcellus Gas drilling and processing. The Council is also concerned about like of resources and information on air pollution available to local government officials and residents in the Marcellus Shale.
The organizer will help make contacts in regions negatively impacted by natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania and document, economic, social, and health impacts of natural gas drilling. The position requires travel to make direct contact with people who are affected and attending local meetings and community events related to natural gas drilling.
• Program management: coordinating the planning, organization, and implementation of the community outreach.
• Representing the Council to constituencies unfamiliar with the organization.
• Outreach to industry local government, residents and community members.
• Community organizing and outreach.
• Regular communication with the Council’s Marcellus Shale staff.
This description has political written all over it and the organization obviously made the position permanent as Sam is now listed as part of the permanent staff of the Clean Air Council, along with six attorneys, six “outreach coordinators,” four “canvassers” and a canvass director, a field manager for “outreach development,” two “advocacy” staff members and a director of environmental justice, not to mention the very political trust-funder head of the whole enterprise, Attorney Joseph Otis Minott, Esq.. That’s 22 out of 39 positions that are, by any reasonable description, political in nature. And, they’ve been supported grants totaling $1,010,000 over the last three years from the William Penn Foundation for (emphasis added):
Organizing and outreach in partnership with others to address impacts to forest cover and water quality from energy infrastructure in the Delaware River Watershed
For research, outreach, and advocacy in coordination with other nonprofits, to minimize impacts from natural gas pipeline infrastructure in the Delaware River watershed.
The Council has also received over $1.5 million from the Heinz Endowments since 2002, among those grants being $44,000 in 2014 to “promote environmentally protective land use laws and regulations relating to shale gas development.”
All of these activities are explicitly in the nature of lobbying under the IRS definitions, which provide as follows (emphasis added):
In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.
Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure. It does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies.
An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.
What’s not to understand about this definition? Yet, the Clean Air Council continues to flaunt these rules by operating as a 501(c)3 charity and apparently under-reporting this political activity. Their most recent 990 return (for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014) indicates as follows:
The Council was limited by IRS regulations to spending $221,103 on lobbying, only $55,276 of which was allowed to be spent on grassroots lobbying, which is defined as:
Grass roots lobbying refers to attempts to influence legislation by attempting to affect the opinion of the public with respect to the legislation and encouraging the audience to take action with respect to the legislation. In either case, the communications must refer to and reflect a view on the legislation.
The Council told the IRS it spent only $60,000 on lobbying in total and $30,000 on grassroots lobbying. These are obviously guesses and they’re very favorable guesses from the perspective of not limiting the activities of the Clean Air council. Is $60,000 reasonable when 22 of 39 employees are involved in what, for all practical purposes, appear to be political activities? Is that reasonable when the organization receives millions of dollars from Heinz and William Penn for outreach, organizing, advocacy and promotion of laws and regulations regarding shale gas development, among other things?
The reader can be the judge but it certainly appears the Clean Air Council is substantially under-reporting its political activity to avoid having to classify itself as a 501(c)4 organization to which donations from Heinz and William Penn would not be tax-exempt. Admittedly, a large part of its organizing and outreach is directed at administrative agencies such as the DRBC which is not counted as lobbying under IRS rules but notice that Heinz grant of $44,000 was specifically for lobbying of legislative bodies and it alone exceeds the $30,000 of grassroots lobbying reported by the Council for its 2014 fiscal year and that’s before considering all the other activity.
It’s more than clear what’s going on here. Heinz and William Penn are shoveling money to the Clean Air Council (and the PovertyKeeper) to do their political dirty work – dirty work they aren’t allowed to even touch themselves as private foundations. It’s an affront to the intent of the law and it’s time to revoke the Clean Air Council tax-exemption and force them to operate as the 501(c)4 entity they really are. They’ll still be tax-exempt themselves. They just won’t be able to tap the Heinz and William Penn money, which is how it should be. And, these two foundations will be deprived of the undue tax-exempt political influence they now have over the lives of all of us just trying to make a damned living, which is also how it should be.