Financial Fiddling at Fidelis?
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 08:37:23 AM EST
The Catholic Right, Part Sixty-one
A little more than a year ago Fidelis, an umbrella advocacy group consisting of various not-for-profit entities, sought to derail the presidential prospects of pro-choice Republican (and Catholic) Rudy Giuliani. It is now going after presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama (the junior senator from Illinois is also pro-choice, pro-embryonic stem cell research, and perhaps what truly horrifies these folks, he favors contemporary liberal economics).

However, my question of May 2007 still stands: Is Fidelis violating the Internal Revenue Code's provisions regarding not-for-profits?

If you visit the Fidelis web site, you will be confronted with a cornucopia of Catholic Right causes. Under "Issues" the only subsections we find are Abortion, Education (focusing exclusively on school vouchers) and Traditional Marriage ("Marriage is the union of one man and one woman"). A November 14, 2007 press release congratulates the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops "...for asserting the primacy of opposing abortion."

The site makes no mention of deeply established Catholic Social Justice issues such as distributive justice economics, immigration or poverty. Fidelis quickly reveals a Catholicism that is dark, exclusionary and joyless. At the top of the home page there is a banner that reads "Headlines," under which parades an endless stream of angry storylines often with hard-line conservative overtones (and having precious little relevance to Catholic social teachings).

Also revealed is Fidelis's dislike of Senator Barack Obama's candidacy for president. The Media Center's Press Section links to pronouncements such as Obama Slams Door on Education 'Change' as well as Jindal Record of Reform Making Strong Case for VP.

The piece on Obama and vouchers contains the very political exhortation "Despite the rhetoric, Barack Obama is not the candidate of change in education" while the one on Jindal contains similar-sounding electioneering content such as:

"A strong record of ethics and education reform is just what the doctor ordered to combat the perceptions of a lethargic, corrupt GOP that voters ousted from Congress in 2006," said Brian Burch, President of Fidelis.

"With his ethics bill and education plan, Governor Jindal is blazing a trail for Republican reform in the Bayou," said Burch.

"Adding Bobby Jindal to the ticket would reinforce John McCain's strong message of reform and would convince independents that the GOP learned the lessons from 2006."

There are other excellent reasons for selecting the Louisiana governor, Burch said.

In Part Thirteen of this series, I questioned the financial dealings of the Catholic Right group Fidelis. What drew my attention was this observation from a flyer the fervently anti-abortion organization was handing out against then-presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani:

...this brings us to a possible legal problem for the Fidelis family, as the activities of one family member may get another in trouble. ...At the bottom of both of the Giuliani-targeted Fidelis press releases is a statement very much worth noting:

Paid for by Fidelis America PAC_P.O. Box 277 Chelsea, MI 48118_Joseph J. Cella, Treasurer Not Authorized by Any Candidate or Committee

These releases-very clearly designed to influence the 2008 presidential election--are posted on what appears to be the joint web site for several related organizations, Fidelis, Fidelis America, Fidelis Media Fund, and Fidelis Center for Law and Policy, respectively, a political lobby, a PAC, a 527 political committee. On the donation page the organization describes itself as a 501 (c)(4) tax-exempt organization, but has no separate donation capability for its PAC.

Still, at the writing of this piece, the About" page describes Fidelis in this manner:

Fidelis consists of four organizations:

The universal name Fidelis is our flagship 501(c)(4) membership organization engaged in lobbying, public education, and the advancement of issues related to life, faith, and family.

Under its universal designation, Fidelis works to shape public debate and formulates public policy that promotes religious freedom, values human life and upholds the institutions of marriage and the family.

Fidelis Political Action is a federal Political Action Committee (PAC). Members of Fidelis can contribute to this PAC to help elect candidates who support a culture of life, traditional marriage and family friendly policies.

Fidelis Center for Law and Policy is our 501(c)3 legal and educational arm established to organize, coordinate, and engage in strategic litigation designed to defend religious liberty, the traditional family, and a culture of life. The Center works with expert attorneys across the country to initiate, fund, and coordinate legal efforts.

Fidelis Media Fund is a public-education entity set up as an IRS Section 527 organization. The Media Fund participates in public education campaigns to champion religious freedom, a culture of life and marriage and the family by engaging voters and concerned citizens on important policy issues and judicial nominations. The media fund develops compelling and sharply-focused mailings, print, radio and television advertising to reinforce grassroots initiatives on these same fronts. Our team is reinforced by media experts who have a wealth of experience in political and corporate media projects.

There is still no separate donation capability for its PAC.

Internal Revenue Code; 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charities or foundations are described as:

organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office. (italics added)

The activities Fidelis's various entities raise a few troubling questions. Do the pro-Jindal and anti-Obama pronouncements constitute what the IRS describes as behavior designed to "intervene in a political campaign" -- activities from which non-profit tax exempt organizations are prohibited?

The IRS was very clear about this kind of thing in the run-up to the last federal elections:

"...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."

...further down stating in no uncertain terms:

Although section 501(c)(3) organizations may engage in some activities to promote voter registration, encourage voter participation, and provide voter education, they will violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention if they engage in an activity that favors or opposes any candidate for public office.

While a visit to the Fidelis web site reveals many things, its finances remain murky and suggests a possible -- and possibly illegal -- co-mingling of its efforts, and its contributions to both its PAC and 527 Media Fund.

The question still stands: Is Fidelis violating the Internal Revenue Code's provisions regarding not-for-profits?

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. Cocozzelli :

Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven   Part Twelve   Part Thirteen   Part Fourteen   Second Intermezzo   Part Sixteen   Part Seventeen   Part Eighteen   Part Eighteen   Part Nineteen   Part Twenty   Part Twenty-one   Part Twenty-two   Part Twenty-three   Part Twenty-four   Part Twenty-five   Part Twenty-six   Part Twenty-seven   Part Twenty-eight   Part Twenty-nine   Part Thirty   Part Thirty-one   Part Thirty-two   Part Thirty-three   Part Thirty-four   Part Thirty-five   Part Thirty-six   Part Thirty-seven   Part Thirty-eight   Part Thirty-nine   Part Forty   Part Forty-one   Part Forty-two   Part Forty-three   Part Forty-four   Part Forty-five   Part Forty-six   Part Forty-seven   Part Forty-eight   Part Forty-nine   Part Fifty   Part Fifty-one   Part Fifty-two   Part Fifty-three   Part Fifty-four   Part Fifty-five   Part Fifty-six   Part Fifty-seven   Part Fifty-eight   Part Fifty-nine   Part Sixty

Fred Clarkson noted this about the Fidelis web site: Unlike most organizations, and even though this web site is a portal for four organizations, there is not a single person listed in connection with any of the Fidelis groups. Not one.  

This does not pass the smell test.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 08:39:14 AM EST

What would be a surprise is if these folks would demonstrate more ethics in nonprofit activities than they do in for-profit secular activities. They seem to be following the decidedly non-religious principle that "all's fair in love and war." They seem to be following the example set by Bill Donohue.

by khughes1963 on Sat Jun 28, 2008 at 09:44:25 PM EST
Actually Kathy they're following the buccaneer capitalistic "ethics" of Michael Novak and Fr. Robert Sirico.

As Novak says in justifying his version of capitalism, "it's a system for sinners," and boy, do they sin. They're using faith to defend bad economics.

I prefer my capitalism (which I do support) regulated so that the economic sin does not get out of hand.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 08:31:33 AM EST

It is buccaneer capitalism written large. I am not against capitalism per se, but it needs to be regulated in the public interest. I don't trust the folks running the system to act in the public interest without regulation. In the last 30 years, we have been seeing a return to the Gilded Age, and it doesn't make me very comfortable or hopeful about the future of the United States. The mortgage crisis is just one example of how the economic deregulation has led to economic disaster.

I suppose this resonates with me especially since I just finished reading Sen. James Webb's "A Time to Fight." He gives an excellent discussion of just how wrong the economy has gone for those of us who have to work for a living.

I wonder if despite their Catholic beliefs, they might agree with the early and later Calvinists about worldly wealth being a sign of divine favor. The preachers of the prosperity gospel appear to believe this as well.

by khughes1963 on Sun Jun 29, 2008 at 09:41:46 PM EST

As our founders understood too well that if we were "angels" we wouldn't need the kinds of restraints we have in our society. Though I am of the thought that where regulation by others of our personal lives has gone too far. We should have more freedom in sexual matters and other areas of personal expression between consenting adults than are not allowed in our society. Vice cops are after all the Christian version of the SexPol Orwell talked about. A means of control. These people what to be as strict as the Muslim Shar'ia law in what is illegal and the harsh punishments metered out, including death, as part of a society they have envisioned for us. Prosperity gospel is a kind of tautaulogy for the already rich. Too bad they don't believe in spreading the wealth throughout society that could especially benefit the poor. I disagree with the Bible that we will have the poor with us always. I think we can be better than that. What we need is an adult society where we have far more autonomy in what we chose to do to ourselves or with others in agreement for ourselves without directly harming others. It could happen. It was so in the past and could so again in the future if we can stop these Calvanists from implementing their theocracy here. I don't think we have much time.

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