`Nonpartisan' NAACP taxes IRS' patience

October 30, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

MAYBE SOME enterprising soul with an appreciation of irony should post a sign outside the NAACP national headquarters on Mount Hope Drive: "Chickens come home to roost here."

And come home to roost they have. Start building the chicken coops.

In July, NAACP board Chairman Julian Bond -- whose mouth should have been retired when his old organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, drifted into irrelevance back in the late '60s -- served up one of his patented anti-President Bush, anti-Republican salvos. He reiterated his comparison of Republicans to the Taliban and, for good measure, hinted that Bush really wanted to repeal the 14th Amendment, which was passed mainly with the purpose of giving citizenship to newly freed slaves.

Yep. According to Bond, Bush was some tobacco-chewing, hang 'em high Bubba just a-hankering to lash us po' colored folks back onto the plantation. Now, four months later, he's crying foul because the Internal Revenue Service has called his organization on its "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" brand of nonpartisanship.

The IRS classifies the national branch of the NAACP as a 501(c)(3) organization whose contributions from donors are tax-deductible. This designation also restricts its lobbying activities and prevents it from endorsing candidates.

The IRS is investigating to determine whether Bond's Bush-bashing was legitimate criticism or crossed the line into a back-handed endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry.

Perhaps the nation's oldest civil rights organization should take a page from the book of its younger brother, the Congress of Racial Equality, better known by the acronym CORE.

George Holmes, the executive director and chief operating officer of CORE, said that organization has both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) statuses.

"The 501(c)(3) is a tax-exempt, charitable foundation," Holmes said, adding: "The 501(c)(4) is a not-for-profit organization. That allows us to get involved in lobbying and political efforts. I'm almost certain the NAACP is set up the same way."

Well, not exactly.

According to NAACP spokesman John White, its local branches have 501(c)(4) status, not the national office. And, even though individual branches technically can endorse candidates, the honchos on Mount Hope Drive frown on the practice.

"Internally, we don't encourage it," White said.

White disputed the IRS charges of partisanship.

"We think that we've criticized both Democratic and Republican administrations when it's been called for," White said. Holmes agreed with White, which is interesting when you consider that CORE's national chairman and chief executive officer, Roy Innis, and his son Niger Innis, the organization's national spokesman, both tilt rightward politically.

"I think it's nitpicking," Holmes said of the IRS audit. "Whether it's politically motivated or not, I'm not sure. But the NAACP has criticized presidents for years. So has the Urban League. So has CORE. Martin Luther King did it."

But when has any leader of the NAACP, or the Urban League, or CORE or King's organization (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) compared a political party to a bunch of murderous thugs, torturers and human rights violators like the ones America booted out of Afghanistan? Even during the most virulent periods of racism in American history -- not even after the most heinous and brutal of lynchings -- has an NAACP board chairman implied a sitting president and his party are not only terrorists, but racists as well.

When, before 2000, has the NAACP or one of its offshoot organizations run an ad during a presidential campaign implying one of the candidates endorsed lynching? That's just what the NAACP Voter Education Fund did four years ago, in an ad released just before the election. Supposedly an "issue ad" supporting hate crimes legislation, the piece featured the voice of the daughter of Texas lynching victim James Byrd claiming that Bush's opposition to hate crimes legislation was like seeing her father murdered again.

"In 2000 [the NAACP was] very clearly advocating a candidate," Holmes said, adding that he thought an IRS audit was more warranted then than now.

But if chickens don't come home to roost right away, they might come home to roost later -- like in four years. The NAACP might be paying now for that 2000 ad, although I'm sure Bond will claim, as he did in 2000, that technically the NAACP Voter Education Fund is a different organization from the NAACP. But Bond never condemned that ad. In fact, he agreed with it.

Some "nonpartisanship." After the dust clears and the NAACP has wrangled its way out of this audit mess, organization members might want to consider whether they're best served by having Bond the Bilious as board chairman.

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