By any other name . . .

The Nonprofiteer has never had much time for people who want to change the name of the sector to something non-“non”—something more positive, like “Civil Society Organization,” or less meaningful, like “independent.”  But this article about the connection between Herman Cain’s campaign and a Tea Party front group funded by the Koch Brothers has her rethinking her position.  Under the headline “Cain to Review Links to a Nonprofit” we learn that

An outside lawyer will review allegations that Herman Cain’s presidential campaign accepted tens of thousands of dollars in goods and services from a tax-exempt organization founded by his chief of staff . . .

The front group, “Americans for Prosperity,” is a Wisconsin nonprofit granted at least preliminary 501c3 recognition by the IRS.  And if it were actually nothing more than a group of citizens banded together to advocate for policies they believe will lead to prosperity, there would be nothing wrong with that.  But if instead it’s just a mouthpiece for the Koch brothers—an Astroturf, rather than a grassroots, organization—then there is something wrong.

The IRS requires 501c3s to raise a third of their money from the public precisely to prevent the creation of captive organizations of this kind.   Use of a tax-exempt entity to promote the interests of a single individual or family is a violation of Federal tax law.  Moreover, if the nonprofit paid some of the Cain campaign’s expenses, that’s a violation of Federal election law—perhaps one of the few activities left that is.

The Cain campaign may collapse under the weight of far more interesting allegations (sex beats money every time); but if in fact this nonprofit was nothing more than a campaign slush fund, its existence represents a taint on the “nonprofit” label.  What a shame that “handmaiden to profit and to policies assuring that the profitable get more so and the rest of us get squat” is so unwieldy.

Maybe a new name for the sector wouldn’t come amiss; but let’s be realistic.  The Iron Law of Euphemisms means that whatever name is adopted instead will soon become an epithet itself.  This explains the “progress” in designating African-Americans, from “n****r” to “colored” to “Negro” to “black” to “Black” to “people of color”: as long as people using the term hate the people they’re describing, the term will be infected with their hatred and soon need to be abandoned.

And as long as the wealthiest people using the term “nonprofit” are determined to distort the form to support the worst excesses of the profit-driven world, it hardly matters what the rest of us call it.

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6 Responses to “By any other name . . .”

  1. Maureen O'Connor Says:

    I’d hate to see the good work done under the “nonprofit” label minimized or abandoned because some power/money-mongers decide it’s their newest frontier to be exploited. (Thanks again, Citizens United.) I’d like to see us reclaim the label and marginalize the counterfeiters who would slap it on pseudo-causes–“Occupy Nonprofit,” if you will.

    This post brought to mind again something that’s been rattling noisily in my brain–a statement Bill Moyers made in his keynote at Public Citizen’s 40th anniversary gala on October 20: “Our politicians are money launderers in the trafficking of power and policy.”

    I wish I didn’t see a lot of truth in this statement. It puts the rest in rather a different (glaring, nauseating, terrifying) light.

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      You’re absolutely right–it’s like when lefties threaten to leave the US because the Republicans have so much power, to which my response is: “Let them leave! This is my country!” Nonprofits are our country and the fraudsters are the ones who should leave.

      As for the money-laundering analogy: it strikes me (as it does you) as sad but true.

  2. Nancy Worssam Says:

    We’re all captives of the 4%, and the great horror and impossible to understand reality is that so many of the rest of us don’t recognize it and, instead, support their interests.

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      Is it as much as 4%? So much wealth is concentrated in the top one-tenth of one percent that I’m not even looking any further down. But, yes, the manipulation of poor people by rich people so that poor people endorse their own deprivation is the worst aspect of a terrible situation.

  3. Anita Bernstein Says:

    The IRS has a form, #13909, that anyone can fill out to suggest that an exempt organization forfeit its 501(c)(3) status. The form includes ten or so checkoff complaints. If I were filling out 13909 re: Americans for Prosperity, I’d happily check off “Organization is involved in a political campaign,” but maybe the financial mismanagement stuff is even better. Apparently the Internal Revenue Code forbids the IRS to tell complainants what is going on with their denunciation but eventually you can check irs.gov to see which entities have been de-listed.

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      Anita, This is incredibly helpful–I didn’t know about the form. At some level it gives me the creeps that one can be an anonymous denouncer (the Stasi, anyone? Count of Monte Cristo?) but of course anonymity is necessary, and we have to have watchdogs on these people (obviously). Thanks for the tip.

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