Monday, May 29, 2006

Advance America Thumbs Nose At Non-Profit Law Governing Voter Guides

Speaking of Christian hate groups, Eric Miller's Advance America, which is a political action committee masquerading as a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization, recently released its biennial voter guide in time for this year's election to help sway voters to support state legislative candidates who support issues the group deems important to our state. The voter guide focuses on just 5 votes in the Indiana Senate and 7 votes in the Indiana House. You won't be surprised to learn that the voter guide generally portrays Republicans as being more "pro family, pro business and pro-church" than their Democratic counterparts. Republican members' records are depicted mostly with check marks next to their names like a grade school report card, while the Democratic members' records appear as incomplete as if they didn't complete all their school work.

While many legislative proposals of interest to Advance America pass through both the Senate and the House, the organization chooses, to an extent, different issues in the two chambers for obviously tactical political purposes. For example, you won't be surprised to learn that SJR-7, a constitutional amendment which would write discrimination into Indiana's Constitution against same-sex couples, was listed as a key vote in both the House and the Senate. SJR-7 passed the Senate by a whopping 42-8 vote, and it passed the House handily by a vote of 76-23. And the only votes against SJR-7 in the Senate and the House, of course, came from Democrats.

A new law requiring "informed consent" for women seeking abortions is a key vote according to the group. The bill requires physicians to inform their patients that ultra-sounds are available, and that she can hear the heatbeat of the fetus if she chooses to listen to the ultra-sound. For some reason, AI doubts that ranks high on the priority list of a woman or girl who becomes pregnant as a result of incest or rape, and has no other choice than to seek an abortion. SB 76 flew through the Senate on a vote of 40-8, while it passed the House by a 75-23 vote. The no votes, with the exception of one lone Republican in the House (Rep. John Ulmer), came from Democrats.

The Eric Miller Patriot Act also figured important in this year's voter guide. Under this critical new law, every public classroom must display the American Flag, and children in our public schools are required to recite the pledge of allegiance each day and observe a daily moment of silence where they can pray if they choose. SB 332 made it through the Senate on a vote of 46-3, and the House approved it on a vote of 86-6. If you guessed that those handful of no votes against SB 332 came from Democrats, you would have guessed right.

Now here's where Miller gets a little too clever for his own good. While he managed to muster a few Democrat votes against his standard fare which he could clobber them with in this year's election, many Democrats didn't fall for the bait and managed a record good enough to make a conservative Republican proud. The last thing the partisan Miller wants to do is hand his members a voter guide that makes some Democrats look as good as their Republican counterparts so he mixes it up a little.

The perfect bill in the House to use for this purpose was a vote on the 2005 budget bill, which was adopted strictly on party lines by a vote of 52-48. This is how Miller explains the budget bill to his members:

Previous budgets in Indiana have not been balanced and they spent more than what the state took in. This budget . . . was the first balanced budget in the past several years. It contains no tax increases and the budget would have eliminated the structural deficit in 2007.

There you have it. Anyone who voted against HB 1001 in 2005 was implicitly against a balanced budget and for tax increases. And guess what? They were all Democrats. And guess who controlled the House all those years when the budget wasn't balanced? That would be the Democrats.

And then there's that dreaded gambling coming back to bite us. A Senate amendment to that same budget bill, HB 1001, would have expanded gambling in Indiana. The amendment would have permitted Indiana's two horse race tracks to have pull-tab terminals, something akin to slot machines, and in the words of Miller, "would have expanded gambling in the state of Indiana dramatically." The Senate stopped the amendment by a vote of 16-33, but not before grabbing up 15 yes votes from Senate Democrats. Only one Republican, Sen. Bob Jackman, voted on the losing side with the Democrats.

Back in the House, Miller dirtied up the Democrats' voting records even more with a vote on education choice. SB 281 is part of Miller's agenda to have taxpayers subsidize parents who send their children to religious schools. Miller describes it as an "effort to empower parents to choose the education setting for their children." It would have provided a $1,000 education tax credit for each child, up to $2,000 per family, if a parent chose to send their children to a private school instead of a public school. SB 281 failed in the House by a vote of 45-54. The prevailing no votes were made up largely of the Democratic caucus and a handful of Republicans, but at least one of them, Rep. Mary Kay Budak, was vanquished in the primary by a more conservative challenger.

And then there was that now infamous bill to regulate abortion clinics in Indiana out of business. According to a misleading characterization of SB 281, Miller claims there are "no regulations for existing abortion clinics with regards to the building where the abortions take place." SB 281 would have simply regulated these buildings. In fact, the regulations SB 281 were so burdensome it would have led to the closure of most, if not all, of Indiana's existing abortion clinics. Planned parenthood advocates argued that was the true purpose behind the bill. The bill passed the House by a vote of 60-38. Once again, virtually all of the no votes came from Democrats, with the notable exception of Rep. John Ulmer.

Miller also included a vote on a bill which required an audit of the state lottery. It passed on a vote of 79-19. We're not sure whether this qualified as a pro church, pro business or pro family vote. Who even cares?

So why does this matter? Internal Revenue Codes permit 501(c)(3) organizations like Advance America to distribute voter guides only if they do "not indicate a preference towards any candidate." The guides must be "unbiased in form, content and distribution." IRS rules specifically provide that a voter guide may show bias by "comparing the organization's position on issues with those of the candidates" or by "only covering issues that are important to the organization, as opposed to a range of issues of interest to the general public." Advance America's voter guides are suspect on these bases to say the least.

Also, the manner in which Advance America poses the issues in the selected votes is done so in a very bias manner against IRS rules. When a candidate's position is based on a yes/no vote, the organization is required to give a reasonable opportunity to the candidate to explain their vote. If given the opportunity, AI suspects each of the House's Democratic members would have liked an opportunity to explain their vote against the 2005 budget bill. Instead of wasting party resources fighting Indiana's voter ID law, state Democrats should be challenging the legality of Advance America's misleading voter guides. According to the organization's website, 850,000 of these biased and partisan voting guides will be distributed to Indiana voters this year in clear violation of the rules and regulations governing not-for-profit organizations.


Anonymous said...


Get back to me when you get your dander up about the ISTA, Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, etc. etc. etc.

Voter guides are useful tools. I'm glad organizations like Advance America (AND the ones I listed previously) put them out.

Anonymous said... typical of the hysterical fringe of ANY group or movement: if someone disagrees with you, they must be a "bigot," and a "criminal."

If you think advance america is violating non profit law, why don't you call the ACLU and see if they'll file a lawsuit.

I'm sure they'd LOVE to if they had any grounds.

But then there's that whole "free speech" thing in the US Constitution...

Jeff Newman said...

Sorry, Anon, you're missng it here, it's not about free speech, it's about violating the tax rules. I'm pretty sure Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are not 501(c)3's

As far as the NAACP, their tax-exempt status was threatened by the IRS for merely criticising President Bush at their national convention last year.

So much for free speech.

Gary R. Welsh said...

The right to free speech doesn't include the right to bilk the government out of taxpayer dollars by setting up phony not-for-profit corporations anonymous 7:32. And Jeff is right. The NAACP is under investigation right now by the IRS for engaging in partisan politics.

Mike Kole said...

So it seems that both sides should now be able to see that the purpose of these tax codes is to deny free speech to non-profits.

Gary R. Welsh said...

No Mike--you simply don't organize as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization if your true purpose is to lobby and engage in partisan politics--that's the purpose behind political action committees.