Friday, January 27, 2006

Miller Gloats Over Defeat Of Lobbying Reform, But For How Long?

The Grand Dragon of Moral Righteousness is gloating over the defeat of a lobbyist reform bill intended to crack down on entities like his own gay bashing and immigrant bashing organization, Advance America. As Advance Indiana previously reported SB 371 introduced by Sen. Larry Lutz (D-Evansville) would have closed a major loophole in Indiana’s Lobby Law by requiring lobbyist to register and report their grassroots lobbying expenditures. The bill died this week in the Senate for lack of a hearing.

Miller could have had a case of the blues this week because Thompson’s anti-gay amendment to the eminent domain bill his organization is pushing was withdrawn under a black cloud earlier this week, but he’s mostly just relieved that Indiana will have no lobbying reform for at least another year. In his weekly legislative update to his members, Miller blatantly mischaracterizes the legislation, describing SB 371 as “an attempt to stop public involvement in the legislative process”, and which sought “to intimidate and stop individuals from communicating with their friends, neighbors, relatives, etc about a specific issue and urging them to get involved in the legislative process.” In actuality, its purpose is to end the blatant abuse of the law by people and groups like him and his organization.

Organizations like Eric Miller’s Advance America often spend in excess of $100,000 annually on grassroots efforts to influence legislative actions through the use of automated action alert e-mails and telephonic messages, radio and television advertisements, mass mailings and other forms of public communications. None of these expenditures must be reported currently under Indiana law.

As an example of how Advance America abuses this loophole we need look for evidence no further than a recent legislative alert Miller sent to his members urging them to contact their legislators. In the communication, Miller sought contributions “to help us pay our legislative expenses which will exceed $160,000.” But as we reported previously in an analysis we made of Advance America’s lobbyist expenditure reports, the organization reports only a small percentage of its legislative expenditures as “lobbying expenditures.” During the period of 2000 to 2005, for example, Advance America reported to the Lobby Registration Commission annual lobbying expenditures of as little as $3,855.67 to no greater than $38,397.82.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Advance America is a not-for-profit organization, which means the contributions made to the organization are tax-deductible and the revenue it generates are not subject to taxation. Under the Internal Revenue Code, a not-for-profit which engages in partisan politics or excess lobbying activities can have its status revoked and its officers monetarily penalized or criminally prosecuted for violating the law.

As we’ve also previously reported, Advance America is blatantly abusing its non-profit status. Our analysis shows that Advance America reports very little of its expenditures as lobbying expenditures, even under the much broader Internal Revenue Code definition of lobbying. According to our analysis of the organization’s tax returns, it attributes as little as 3% and no more than 7% of its annual expenditures as lobbying expenditures. During the period of 1998 to 2003, for example, the group reported annual lobbying expenditures of as little as $25,037, and no more than $52,175. We believe that any fair and balanced examination of Advance America’s activities would show that the organization is under-reporting its actual lobbying expenditures to the IRS, and that the degree of lobbying undertaken each year by the group would make it an “action group” not entitled to tax-exempt status.

Eric Miller may be gloating about the defeat of lobbyist reform for now, but will he much longer? Advance Indiana can report that Indianapolis Star reporter Brendan O’Shaughnessy is sitting on bombshell evidence that Miller and his law firm may have illegally conspired to evade Indiana’s Lobby Law. Strangely, the reporter who helped uncover the mass corruption at the Gary Urban Enterprise Association while working as a reporter in Northern Indiana before coming to the Star has been sitting on this bombshell story for months.

Advance Indiana’s patience is running out on the Star and O’Shaughnessy. We’ll give them a few more days, but otherwise, we intend to let the public know what they know about the nefarious activities of Miller to evade our lobbying laws but are not disclosing to the public and government prosecutors. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

lori said...

Looking forward to reading about this!