by Robert Wilder
The recent debate on the U.S. and state deficits, including California, has brought forward the issue of how activists and special interest groups systematically use the federal and state tax systems and obtain charitable status to promote their activities. This arguably means the average citizen in the U.S. is subsidizing these groups, regardless of their cause. We end up supporting groups that may be pro or anti-abortion, pro or anti-gay, pro or anti-war, or have other affiliations, through the tax system, regardless of our personal views as citizens.
We can all agree on the concept of charity and charitable organizations and the need for their existence. The question we have to ask ourselves is: What organizations deserve tax-exempt status? Should every kook with a cause be able to set up a nonprofit organization and fund it with tax-exempt contributions? Should activist and special interest groups with partisan agendas get the benefit of taxpayer dollars, tax-exempt status, and other subsidies without accountability? In my mind, any group receiving nonprofit status and the benefits government funds in any form should be non-partisan and represent all taxpayers, as we are the ones subsidizing a good part of their operation.
Nonprofit, or 510 (c) (3) organizations, according to the IRS, are supposed to be exempt from paying taxes if they are set up for charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. Also, according to the IRS, the term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief to the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged, advancement of religion, advancement of education or science, erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works, lessening the burdens of government, lessening neighborhood tensions, eliminating prejudice and discrimination, defending human and civil rights secured by law, and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.
Here is a local example. I read that representatives from Claim-GV, APPLE, Wolf Creek Alliance, Sierra Fund, and the Green Party are having a panel discussion on the Idaho-Maryland Mine and showing a documentary called, “The Last Mountain,” a movie about mountaintop coal mining in West Virginia. Again, while I respect these groups' right to free speech, would it not be appropriate to have a mine representative participate in the panel, or some other neutral or pro-mining groups to balance things so the public can get some objectivity? And the idea of showing mountaintop coal mining and trying to compare that to the proposed Idaho-Maryland Project is ridiculous.
Claim-GV gets little or no credibility with the public in Grass Valley, other than from those who drink their Kool-aid. They continually misrepresent the project to the public, using scare tactics. For example, their picture of the proposed ceramics plant belching smoke thousands of feet in the air is a “Photo-shopped” picture with no scientific calculation to back it up. Claim-GV representatives even admit this when questioned at their booth at Thursday Night Markets. So, we, the taxpayer, are subsidizing an activist group with no ethics or morals, who have the sole goal of stopping a project that they do not like and they will say anything to do it (the ends justifies the means). This is regardless of the jobs, tax revenue, and environmental benefits (clean up of a legacy mine site) it will bring the community. Where is the accountability for the use of our taxpayer's dollars in this? I do not want my tax dollars subsidizing groups like this.
What is even more of a shame is that groups like APPLE, Wolf Creek Alliance and the Sierra Fund, that are potentially responsible community groups, get sucked into the vortex of Claim-GV's irresponsible actions. If the members of these organizations want to be dragged down and associated with the lack of ethics and morals represented by Claim-GV and their representatives, it is truly sad. Perhaps it is time for you to reconsider your association with Claim-GV and instead work proactively with the city and the mine to create the best project possible, and support our community?
We can expect over the next few years that tax reform will come. It is hoped that our politicians will look into the abuse of 501 (c) (3) organizations and revamp the tax regulations to better determine who should qualify for tax-exempt status. In the meantime, special interest groups need to realize that taxpayers are fed up with subsidizing them as charities when they are clearly not. It is time for them to take action to transform themselves into responsible and representative organizations.
Robert Wilder is a resident of Nevada County and a true Patriot.