BARACK THE VOTE: Rock the Vote Violates its Tax-Exempt Status?

In Texas we have an expression: Saying it don’t make it so. The proof of the saying is all around us. Take for instance the latest video from that national treasure Naked Emperor News which shows then candidate Barack Obama pledging eight times to play out the health care reform debate on CSPAN, or MSNBC’s assurances that the Ft. Hood shooting spree was not motivated by religion.

For a real case-study, however, spend a little time on the website of the nation’s foremost youth-voter organization, Rock the Vote.

RockTheVote-310px

Just before Christmas, when many Americans were turning their attention to faith and family, Rock the Vote, a tax-exempt 501 (c) (3), remained firmly fixed on pushing through the administration’s health-care reform legislation. According to the organization’s website, they asked (commissioned) web-comedy team Funny or Die to create a video to help cut-through voter-fatigue over the issue. The result, which was then featured in front of the RTV homepage, is called “F the Vote,” and its concluding recommendation to young voters is that they join a pledge to “never, ever, f**k” anyone who is against health care reform.” That’ll show ‘em.

[youtube gNfG8gwamKM nolink]

According to the group’s blog, the video is a parody of the system, but of course, it does not parody the system in anyway. At best, it is a parody of the “I Pledge” video featuring Ashton Kutcher and company, but the system? Saying it don’t make it so.

But this isn’t the biggest lie to be found on the RTV website. Try this assertion:

Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan organization. This means that we do not support or endorse candidates nor do we participate in any activities that could benefit one party over another. There are many laws governing our work as a nonpartisan organization and we take our non partisanship seriously.

It’s times like these I wish I had my own friends at Funny or Die. Non-partisan? Even the organization’s mission statement makes a mockery of that assertion:

Rock the Vote’s mission is to engage and build the political power of young people in order to achieve progressive change in our country.

A quick trip to the dictionary, and you’ll be reminded that the word progressive, in a political context, means:

Advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.

Seems a little partisan for a non-partisan 501 (c) (3). In fact, compare this mission statement to the mission statement of another organization, a decidedly partisan 501 (c) (4) political lobbying group that happens to be housed in the same offices as the tax-exempt, “nonpartisan” Rock the Vote, the Rock the Vote Action Fund.

Rock the Vote Action Fund, founded in 2008, is dedicated to educating and engaging young progressive voters to make change in our country.

The Rock the Vote Action Fund, however, can go much further, since it is not bound by even the pretense of non-partisanship. Their mission statement goes on to say:

…Our goal is to encourage massive turnout of young progressive voters to the polls through education on the issues and the candidates.

After the election, we will harness the power of young people to take action on key issues, from health care to Iraq, at the local and national level.

Not to worry, though. They close by stating quite clearly that, despite having the same name, much of the same staff, and being housed in the same offices as Rock the Vote…

Rock the Vote Action Fund is a non-profit 501(c)(4) organization and is independent of Rock the Vote, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.

Oh. They say it. It must be so…

It is readily apparent even at a glance that the non-partisan Rock the Vote is just a beard for the decidedly partisan Rock the Vote Action Fund. Rock the Vote gives the partisans behind both organizations the cover they need to, among other things, recruit on high school and college campuses, receive large corporate partnerships from AT&T, the WWE, and Lifetime Television, and, perhaps most troubling of all, to launch a new nationwide high school civics curriculum.

The good news for those of us who don’t like the idea of left-wing partisans reaching into our public school classrooms or targeting teens with nihilistic video ‘parodies’ is that, despite the lengths the folks at Rock the Vote take to maintain the illusion of non-partisanship, they don’t do a very good job of it. In fact, even with the sister company shield in place, Rock the Vote still violates its tax-exemption restrictions overtly and often. Which brings us back to the “F the Vote” health care video.

According to the RTV blog, Support for Health Care Reform is Nonpartisan. The trouble is – No it’s not, at least not if health-care reform in any way implies the specific legislation currently being considered in the Congress. Consider this graphic from the homepage (the day I wrote this):

top-box-hc-step2

Is it an historic step if it does not pass? This graphic clearly encourages young voters to get in the game to help push the current resolutions, which have passed the House (Step 1) with exactly one out of two hundred two Republicans supporting it, and which passed the Senate (step 2) with exactly zero out of forty Republicans supporting it. If only one out of two-hundred forty-two members of one party vote for something, and you are encouraging action to ensure its passage, you are clearly opposed to the position of one party (read: Partisan).

According to the IRS:

In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).

What exactly constitutes lobbying?

An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

According to Rock the Vote’s own blog, the purpose of the “F the Vote” video was just that:

The video updates the old “call your Congressman” adage in a funny, provocative, and attention-grabbing way. The video, which seems to have done its job of getting attention, then acts as a bridge to the sections of our website where you can get serious information on what is at stake, what is in the current bills, how the process works, and how to take real action.

How does RTV suggest taking real action? Click the link and it will take you to a page featuring this graphic:

call-congress-header-v3

Of course, I am no lawyer, but that seems like a pretty clear violation of the prohibition against urging the public to contact congress in favor of a bill. The same page calls on voters to sign the “Yes we Care” pledge. As political slogans go, “Yes we Care” sounds a bit derivative, but I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly. I’m sure it isn’t meant in any way to favor one candidate or party over any other since the IRS states that:

… Voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.

At every turn, Rock the Vote makes clear whose side they are on. Refer back to that video they asked Funny or Die to make and gave them permission to use their logo on. Says the actress:

“Maybe some creep who thinks death panels are real is hitting on you. He’s lying to you. You can rock the vote by lying right back!”

Since ‘death panels’ is a term popularized by Sarah Palin, recent Republican candidate for Vice President, and since Republican legislators raised it on the floor of the United States Congress, it seems pretty clear that calling people liars who believe in them is a decidedly partisan assertion.

In the end, the entire term, “Rock the Vote,” is used by RTV as code for “Advance Liberalism.” Take the first line of “F the Vote:”

“Good Job, young America, you Rocked the vote!”

How did young America Rock the Vote? Again, to the RTV website:

Rock the Vote ran the largest youth voter registration drive in history in 2008.

2.6 million people completed registrations [through RTV].

But to what end did they do this? A nonpartisan end? Says RTV, on a page titled 2008 Accomplishments:

The power of young voters made headlines from the Iowa caucuses to Election Day in November, as a force that propelled Barack Obama to the presidency.

There is a check mark beside this fact, clearly marking the election of Barack Obama to the presidency as an accomplishment of Rock the Vote. Again, according to the IRS:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.

… Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

And yet, Rock the Vote continues to function with impunity, wantonly violating at a minimum the spirit, and apparently even the letter of US tax law. They do so while reaching millions of young voters with their progressive message and placing their curriculum in our public schools, all the while aided by corporate donations from businesses where we all spend our money because of the tax-exempt status they flaunt.

Maybe the IRS just doesn’t speak Texan.

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