Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Advance America Reports Less Than $14,000 In Lobbying Expenditures

Throughout the 2006 legislative session, Advance America founder Eric Miller sent e-mails to his members on a weekly basis updating them on the organization's aggressive legislative agenda. Each e-mail requested tax-deductible contributions to support the effort, the cost of which Miller himself pegged at more than $160,000 for the legislative session. Last week the group filed a "Report of Lobbyist Activity" it is required by law to file with the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission for the reporting period covering Nov. 1, 2005 to April 30, 2006 disclosing how much it spent on lobbying. The group reported total expenditures of just $13,994.48, less than 8% of the amount Miller told his members the group needed to cover its legislative expenses.

The group's largest expenditure, $7,464.62., was for compensation it paid to its employees and contract lobbyists for performing lobbying services. The group reported spending $5,955.14 for uncategorized expenses and $307.72 for entertainment, including meals. According to Advance America's Form 990 IRS tax returns, Miller's law firm, which shares office spaces and expenses with Advance America, has been paid six-figure retainer fees by Advance America over the past several years to perform what appears to be legislative-related work. The firm has not, however, ever registered to lobby on behalf of the organization as Indiana's Lobby Law requires, although Miller and some of the firm's attorneys have registered as compensated employees of the organization. Miller has also consistently been paid a full-time salary by the organization which annually tops $100,000 when benefits are added in.

In sharp contrast to Advance America's lobbying reports, a "Report of Lobbyist Activity" filed for the same reporting period by Indiana Equality, a statewide organization advocating on behalf of the state's GLBT community, reported total lobbying expenditures of $12,600, all of which was for compensation paid to employees or contract lobbyists for performing lobbying services. Because IE had no employees during the reporting period, the amount reported is what the group paid to its contract lobbyists, Lambda Consulting's Mark St. John and John Joanette. What is striking about this is the fact that IE's total annual budget in the past has been less than one-tenth the size of Advance America's annual budget. Additionally, IE did not pursue the passage of any specific legislation during the 2006 legislative session, unlike Advance America, which actively pursued passage of more than a half-dozen bills. Yet, its report seems to reflect the fact that the money it paid to its lobbyists was for direct lobbying activities.

What this demonstrates is precisely what we've reported in the past: Advance America's lobbying reporting both to the IRS and the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission belies the true extent of its actual lobbying activities. While Advance America is only required to report its direct lobbying expenditures and not other expenditures such as grassroots lobbying, the small sum disclosed is simply not credible. By grossly under-reporting the true extent of its lobbying activities, Advance America is able to preserve its tax-exempt status, which allows members to deduct contributions it makes to the organization. Would someone in the mainstream media please do their jobs and report the blatant abuse of our nation's laws government tax-exempt organizations? Must an unpaid blogger continue to do the jobs you are too lazy to do?


Anonymous said...

And The Indianapolis Star still has nothing to say about this? Any Star representative have a comment on this topic? Biddle.....Bueller....anyone?

Gary R. Welsh said...

Lori--I think Rishawn is a little upset with me over the Payne reporting on the juvenile detention center. I tried to pay him a compliment, and he took it as an insult.

Anonymous said...

I saw that and I took it that you were giving him a compliment as well. Not sure why it was read differently.