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Permits, Audits and Comeuppance

At American Thinker, I write about a First Amendment issue involving rally permits.  The piece was prompted by the City of Richmond’s issuing an audit letter to the Richmond Tea Party.  The Tea Party demanded a refund of money it paid for a daytime rally permit after the Tea Party learned that Occupy Richmond was allowed to encamp for weeks without a permit.

Over at The Nonprofit Quarterly, Rick Cohen has a different take:

“On occasion, we spot incidents where the Tea Party, typically prone to eschewing the niceties of corporate and nonprofit registrations and filings, gets its comeuppance. In Richmond, Virginia, the local Tea Party has been protesting the city’s decision to call for a tax audit on the group via tax-day rallies in Richmond’s Kanawha Plaza.”

“Although the organization has been around for a few years now, the Richmond Tea Party seems to have missed some of the basics of nonprofit organization.”

I like my First Amendment and Fourth Amendment comments over his — actually, his lack of them — and I would hope most nonprofits would agree.

While Mr. Cohen and I assuredly disagree over politics, as I am a Tea Party guy while politically Mr. Cohen might be more in the Occupy camp (I dunno, just guessing), he’s made a big deal of Tea Party groups getting tax exempt status, permits, etc.  He seems a little more tolerant of lax legal standards for the Occupy groups.

I think the same laws and constitutional rights apply equally to everyone.  In fact, the Tea Parties have unquestionably been more attentive to following the laws than the Occupiers.

Ah, but Stalin’s henchman Lavrentiy Beria was known to say, “Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.”

I teach a class on the legal aspects of forming nonprofits and fundraising, and spoke in Richmond to Tea Party groups.  Their number one problem is that they lacked funds.  In fact, most the Tea Party organizers I spoke to did not have funds above any reporting threshold.

Ah, but comeuppance is good, right?

4 comments to Permits, Audits and Comeuppance

  • Dear Charity Regulator Watch: Thanks for reading and commenting on my brief newswire about the Richmond Tea Party. Actually, you might have told your readers that I did reference the Tea Party’s First Amendment rights in the comment: “While their right to assembly and free speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Tea Party also used staging and amplification for the rallies and sold food and beverages, and that requires a business license under municipal ordinances.”

    I’ve written a lot about both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement, finding interesting parallels. Unlike other critics of the Tea Party movement who viewed it as an astroturf movement created and manipulated by the likes of Koch brothers, I saw it as a legitimate grassroots movement–much like the Occupy movement is. What I saw in many reports of the Tea Party (which is now much older than the nascent Occupy movement) is the formation of Tea Party organizations that behaved like nonprofits, either (c)(3) and (c)(4) organizations, sometimes even calling themselves nonprofits as they solicited for contributions, but they eschewed obtaining 501(c) status. As I recently heard Evelyn Brody comment at an Urban Institute forum, obtaining a 501(c) nonprofit status is pretty simple, there’s little to it–though I personally wish the IRS were a little more attentive to actually looking at the substance of 501(c) applications.

    In any case, the difference for the Tea Party is that a national superstructure of supportive infrastructure organizations has emerged around it, many of them well-heeled, and some of them saying that they are providing various kinds of technical and financial support to local Tea Party operations. That infrastructure of the likes of the AFP and others has the ability to help groups obtain necessary 501(c) status and avoid situations where they are functioning and behaving like 501(c) organizations, sometimes raising money with donors thinking that they are contributing to public charities, but missing the appropriate legal status. You and I know that the expense is truly minimal, the reporting requirements for small 501(c)(3) organizations to be accomplished by a post card filing.

    It will be interesting to watch how the Occupy movement develops in comparison with the Tea Party movement. So far, there hasn’t been the national technical assistance-providing infrastructure emerging to claim the mantle of friendly step-parent to the Occupiers, in part because they’re hardly as focused in their message and strategy so far as the Tea Partiers were quite early. But if you notice, even the fundraising that has occurred for the Occupy people (for example, in New York with the Occupy Wall Street movement), they have utilized 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsors to collect and hold the donations.

    Last point: You might have been a little over the top is throwing in the quote of Stalin’s henchman with all of its subtle implications for me. Since you have access to the Nonprofit Quarterly website, I’m pretty sure you know that not only am I pretty clearly not a Stalinist, but personally I eschew any innuendo that makes people who disagree with me appear to be Stalinists, Nazis, or anything like that.

    Thanks for reading and commenting on the NPQ Newswire.

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