Political Fund Raising Fails to Crimp Charitable Nonprofits

Article excerpt

Political nonprofit organizations generally experience an increase in donations during an election year, and are currently drawing more dollars than ever. But the fund-raising success of political nonprofits does not seem to be adversely affecting contributions to charitable nonprofit organizations in Oklahoma.

Often called 527 organizations in reference to the section of the Internal Revenue Code under which they are filed, political nonprofit organizations are allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money, claim tax-exempt status and spend their funds on just about any election-related activity short of contributing directly to federal candidates. They are permitted to give to state candidates, party organizations and even other 527s, and may purchase broadcast advertisements, mailings and political research. Nationwide, 527s raised $76.8 million during the first few months of 2004.

Since August 2000, 527s have raised more than $960,000 from donors listing an Oklahoma address, according to research conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. Political nonprofits have also given nearly $960,000 to entities listing an Oklahoma address during the same period.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, based in Washington, D.C., tops the list of 527s that have raised money in Oklahoma, collecting more than $95,000 over the last few years. Oklahoma state Sen. Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, serves on the committee's board of directors.

The committee raised about $50,000 at one fund-raiser held in Oklahoma in the spring of 2003, said Executive Director Michael Davies. Oklahoma is always a state that's pretty closely divided in both legislative chambers, said Davies. I think these guys appreciated that there's a Democratic organization in Washington - that had taken an interest in them, and they did a fund-raiser for us.

The Ironworkers Political Education Fund has raised $88,500 from Oklahomans, and the Democratic Governors' Association has raised $88,250.

The AFL-CIO COPE Treasury Fund has spent $243,000 in Oklahoma, followed by the conservative political action committee ARENA PAC with $152,400, the American Dental PAC Education Fund with $93,400, and the National Association of Republican Woman with $68,500.

Most of the 20,000 or so 527s in existence nationwide are registered in Washington, D.C., though there is at least one 527 registered in all but a dozen states. Only one 527 is registered in Oklahoma: the New Leadership Fund, which is affiliated with former Gov. Frank Keating, according to the Center for Public Integrity. No activity has been reported for the New Leadership Fund since 2002.

Some members of Congress, such as Republicans Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, have voiced their concerns that 527s circumvent the soft money restrictions put in place by new campaign reform laws. In March, the Federal Election Commission proposed a rule change that would reclassify 527s as political committees, prohibiting them from raising money from corporations (including nonprofit corporations) or unions, or using contributions of more than $5,000 from an individual to pay for election-related activities. …