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Responding to Rick Cohen about the Richmond Tea Party Audit

Rick Cohen of The Nonprofit Quarterly commented on a recent post, “Permits, Audits and Comeuppance.” He is the source of my use of the word “comeuppance” in my post, and I urge you to read Mr. Cohen’s entire comment here.

In 2010 I wrote about the first installment of Mr. Cohen’s three-part story that year about the Tea Party (my piece: “The Tea Party and the Spider’s Web”).

I acknowledged that, “[a] very astute observer and an occasional critic of the mostly liberal nonprofit world, Mr. Cohen does a commendable job addressing the fact that the Tea Party movement is not organized structurally like the vast network of liberal nonprofit organizations.”

I also wrote: “As someone who deals with nonprofit structures and political advocacy, I can tell you that any number of big-government, regulation-minded statists will smell Mr. Cohen’s journalistic efforts like chum in the water. They would like nothing more than to pull down some Tea Partiers for transgressions of tax-exempt, election, or other laws.”

I even predicted situations such as the retaliatory and possibly unlawful audit of the Richmond Tea Party: “Undoubtedly, those against whom the Tea Party has been effective would like to see the Tea Party go away — or at least become tied up and hampered by investigations, audits, and the like. That would encumber the time, money, and attention of Tea Partiers, which would reduce their effectiveness and perhaps give the news media a sense of ecstasy . . . .”

I found Mr. Cohen’s use of the term “comeuppance” to describe the audit of the Richmond Tea Party troubling, and still do. My post at CRW explained that the City of Richmond appears to be engaging in unlawful retaliation against the Richmond Tea Party, while the Tea Party appears to have followed the law.

I wish that reporters and writers about the nonprofit world such as Mr. Cohen would focus more attention on the vast lawbreaking and other abuses by charity regulators. Right now, by their silence, professional writers about nonprofits indicate to me, at least, that they are comfortable with charity regulators being the biggest breakers of laws governing charities.

Mr. Cohen and his colleagues would do well following up on the issues I present here at Charity Regulator Watch, and with stories such as the one I broke today, they’d have plenty of material.

One last point: As to the Occupy protests, Mr. Cohen writes, “So far, there hasn’t been the national technical assistance-providing infrastructure emerging to claim the mantle of friendly step-parent to the Occupiers . . .”

I have seen reports to the contrary, including possible ties to the defunct ACORN, and how the Occupiers may need all those tax-exempt filings.

Maybe the Occupiers need to buy my course on the laws of forming tax-exempt entities and fundraising.

2 comments to Responding to Rick Cohen about the Richmond Tea Party Audit

  • Thanks for the comment. As you can know from having read my previous articles on both the Tea Partiers and the Occupiers (since as I’m often reminded, there is no one Tea Party and clearly no one Occupy movement), at NPQ we’re no one’s and no sector’s truckling toady. The “comeuppance” refers to the organization flouting the requirements that apply to everyone. As a former city official in a larger city than Richmond, I don’t take reasonable rules lightly. I have seen too many people, Tea Partiers and others, thumb their nose at government as–by definition, by virtue of its very existence–as a meddlesome bother meant to be ignored for the benefit of society. Your column suggests that there may be abuses among the regulators–and I will watch your column for those instances, though my experience with state charity officials organized through NAAG and NASCO is that most do relatively little because they’re funded and staffed so poorly. Given my writings about some miscreant nonprofits left, right, and center that break the laws, it’s a little hard to imagine that the charity regulators themselves are the nation’s top lawbreakers, but I’ll watch your column for the evidence and report on it at NPQ.

    Do realize that I also, however, spend a lot of time looking at the issue of nonprofit infrastructure. My recognition of the development of a formal, Tea Party-supporting infrastructure of that movement noted that that infrastructure helps propel the movement in a number of ways, through networking, development of common alignment, provision of technical support, identification of opportunities for joint action among members, etc. The fact that former ACORN people have been supportive of the Occupy movement and the other instances you cite are hardly evidence of the development of a supportive infrastructure. As I wrote not long ago for NPQ, while vestiges of ACORN may pop up here and there, in the form of people who were associated with ACORN, ACORN is dead ( As an infrastructure of support for the Occupiers, it doesn’t exist.

    I will be writing about the intersection of the Occupiers and the nonprofit sector and some of the issues that I think you and I both think are worth watching. I’ll keep you informed. Thanks for the response.

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