Friday, November 30, 2007

Hamilton Center In Big Trouble

Terre Haute Mayor-elect Duke Bennett (R) may or may not have violated the Hatch Act by running for mayor when his employer, the Hamilton Center, received federal funding for its Head Start program. It is quite clear, however, that the Hamilton Center violated Internal Revenue Code regulations barring it as a 501(c)(3) organization from participating in campaigns. The Terre Haute Tribune-Star has a bombshell story today disclosing $19,200 the nonprofit has donated to various political campaigns since 1998, including $1,000 donations this year to Bennett and his Democratic opponent, Terre Haute Mayor Kevin Burke. Arthur Foulkes reports:

Hamilton Center, a nine-county behavioral health system, may have violated federal tax law by making political contributions to Terre Haute mayoral candidates Kevin Burke and Duke Bennett.Hamilton Center Inc. donated $1,000 to Burke’s campaign in the Democratic party primary for Terre Haute mayor in February 2007.

After the May primaries, the mental health corporation made a pair of $500 donations to the general election campaign fund of Republican Duke Bennett.

Burke and Bennett reported these contributions in campaign finance reports filed with the Vigo County Clerk’s Office earlier this year. All the contributions are marked as “direct” as opposed to “in-kind” donations.

“They are just not allowed to do that,” said Steve Weissman, associate director for policy at the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington, D.C. The CFI is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit research and education institute associated with George Washington University.

Hamilton Center Inc., based in Terre Haute, is designated as a 501(c)(3) organization under the federal tax code. Such organizations can accept tax-deductible contributions but are prohibited from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign … for elective office,” according to information provided by the IRS in Washington.

“There is an absolute prohibition against any political campaign intervention [by 501(c)(3) organizations],” Weissman said. “It’s in the tax code. It’s in the law and it’s in regulations. So that’s illegal.”

According to the Indiana Election Division, between 1998 and 2006, Hamilton Center has donated $19,200 to candidates for state offices. Recipients of that money include area Democrats Rep. Dale Grubb, Rep. Clyde Kersey, Rep. Vern Tincher, Rep. Alan Chowning, Sen. Mark Blade and Sen. Tim Skinner, as well as Lt. Gov. Katherine Davis, Gov. Joe Kernan and Gov. Frank O’Bannon. Republican recipients of Hamilton Center contributions include Gov. Mitch Daniels, Auditor Connie Kay Nass and the Vigo County Republican Central Committee.

What is shocking is the Hamilton Center's claim that its attorneys and accountants told it the contributions were permissible. "Galen Goode, Hamilton Center’s CEO, said that he has asked the mental health system’s attorneys and accountants in the past whether such activity is permitted." “Their response has always been that the dinners and golf events and things of that sort have typically been public events that we take the position of marketing,” Goode said. “By the time you subtract the cost of these events, etc., the remainder is not material.” The organizations attorney didn't have much to say to the Tribune-Star reporter. "An attorney for Hamilton Center, Richard Shagley Sr. of Terre Haute, said he was not authorized to comment on behalf of Hamilton Center," the story reports.

I simply can't believe a nonprofit could be making political contributions to all these different campaigns this many years and nobody has raised any questions about their legality. Suffice it to say, the Hamilton Center's problems have only just begun. And all of these campaign committees listed in today's story better get busy writing out checks to the Hamilton Center returning all of these illegal campaign contributions.

14 comments:

varangianguard said...

Doh!

Look away now, else the contents of Pandora's Box might sear YOUR eyes.

More people will be thanking Mayor Burke sooner than I thought for opening it all up.

Anonymous said...

What about the City of Carmel GIVING city employees $5000.00, of taxpayers money, to help with expenses of adoption.
I wonder if the taxpayers of Carmel approve of this.

Looks as if the corruption in Marion County is finally spilling over.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least we in Central Indiana can all be thankful that no 501(c)(3) organizations come even close to the line of what might be considered political activity.

Well, don't everybody answer at once.

Anonymous said...

What about the City of Carmel GIVING city employees $5000.00, of taxpayers money, to help with expenses of adoption.
I wonder if the taxpayers of Carmel approve of this.

Looks as if the corruption in Marion County is finally spilling over.


As a Carmel taxpayer, I think it's a great idea. I can't imagine the number of city employees who are going to adopt would be more than one every five or ten years, but its a tremendously humane benefit to offer that really helps society as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:26-

This is increasingly becoming a more commonplace benefit to employees in private companies. I would assume that this is just now spilling over into governement jobs as well. I don't really see the issue with it.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should check instead of assuming that no 501[c][3] organizations donated to any candidates especially Ballard....Ballard lies!!

Anonymous said...

Ugh...Ballard doesn't lie...neither did Bart. Can we PLEASE stop throwing around such reckless terms?

This is the way T. Haute politics has bene played for generations. Nothing new here.

garyj said...

What aboout those who work for a company that does not provide such benefits.
Indiana is an expensive and difficult state to adopt in. Why should certain taxpayers suply the funding, even partially, for that? Just because they are a city employee, they are entitled to better benefits? Maybe if the people in Carmel would come and adopt a "non-white" from a mother who really didn't want the baby to begin with, I'd approve.
Just how many of these adoptive partent adopt a baby of color? I'd be willing to bet the percentage is pretty low.

Why now use that influence ($$$) to lobby the state in an effort to make the process more favorable to thoise who adopt children fron Indiana?

Anonymous said...

Garyj,

Your comments contain some ignorance. I would be willing to bet that the vast, vast majority of adoptions by Carmel residents are "babies of color". It's quite common to see couples with their adopted Chinese, Vietnamese, and Guatemalan children here.

Carmel has a very diverse population, much more so than many neighborhoods in Indianapolis. The problem is that some people with narrow minds have tried to redefine diverse to mean Black. Carmel's percentage of foreign-born population is nearly twice that of Indianapolis'.

garyj said...

Why do they have to be foreign born? Are there not enough orphaned or "unwanted" children in this state? In this country?
Is it a status symbol to adopt a foreign born baby, much like it is to drive a foreign made car?

At least I'm willing to stand behind my comment, unlike the anonymous person who wants to call people ignorant! You're the one who stated that "non-white-means- black".
Sign your name next time you want to insult someone.
or you can even e mail me! Others have when they don't want the world to know who they are.

chuckwhitman@hotmail.com

John said...

Gary,

It's interesting to search the Indiana Campaign Finance website. Why did the Indiana State Museum Foundation make an in-kind contribution to Woody Burton? Granted it was only a $100 membership, but such donations are clearly not allowed by 501(c)3s. It's especially egregious given the public-private partnership in the ISM Foundation.

Besides that, surely old Woody isn't hurting for cash so badly that he couldn't spring for a museum membership if he wanted.

Other interesting contributions include: $300 cash from the Vincennes University Foundation to Rep. Dave Crooks and $400 from the Ball State University Foundation to the Indiana Republican Party.

Thank heavens the IU and Purdue Foundations are squeaky clean.

Anonymous said...

It only stands to reason that with Hollywood having lots of foreign born adoptions that the wannabes in Carmel and Fishers would imitate their celebrity icons. Yes, there are plenty of babies of all races and healthy in Marion County to adopt. It is just more trendy and elitist to buy one from a foreign country.

John said...

Why do they have to be foreign born? Are there not enough orphaned or "unwanted" children in this state? In this country?

From what I've been told, it's much easier and usually more affordable to adopt from abroad than stateside. I also didn't say that non-white means Black. I said that some folks (usually racist Black leaders) would have us believe that diverse simply means Black, when that's not the case.

Is it a status symbol to adopt a foreign born baby, much like it is to drive a foreign made car?

If so, it's a pretty enduring status figure given that foreign adoptions started on a wide scale in the 1970s and 80s.

You made some really hateful comments against some people who are really trying as best they can to provide good lives for unwanted children, and I don't understand why you would be so angry at those folks. I'm also surprised that you didn't re-examine what you had said and realize that the statement you had made based solely on a perception and generalization was wrong. You've been good about recognizing when you were mistaken in the past, and I've respected you for that.

I'll sign my name, but I'm not quite sure what difference that makes. After all, you're not really Chuck Whitman (I hope!).

garyj said...

Not sure what you recieved as being "Hateful", nothing was intended to be.
I think it's great that people want to adopt these "unwanted" or orpahned children. Why can't they do it at home? Why can't this (taxpayer)money be spent on making the system easier here?

I know it's easier and more affordable to adopt out of country. I know couple who have done both. It's easier out of country because the dollar is stronger in other countries than it is here. It's all about the money! Wether it be for the birth parents, the lawyers, or "the system"
There is no such thing as an "unwanted" child, someone wants them. That was just used for lack of a better, more understandable term.

I have no doubt the adoptive parents love the children as if they gave gave birth themselves.
My point is geared more towards finding a way to make the system HERE easier and more "user friendly".

"Charity begins at home"

I don't feel I was wrong on my statement. It wasn't a perception. If Indpls. was giving the money, I'd say the same thing.
Are there any other cities following this practice?
I don't feel it was a mistake on my part, or yours. Just a difference of opinion.

BTW, I'm not chuck whitman, there is along story behind that.
You obviously know who chuck was!!!