Chattanooga, TN - A small social justice non-profit organization from Chattanooga, Tennessee is calling out former Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan for factually incorrect statements he made about them during his widely reported grilling of outgoing IRS head Steve Miller during Friday's congressional hearing.
"While it was nice to hear Congressman Paul Ryan recognize Chattanooga Organized for Action's work for social and economic justice, it is obvious from his discussion of our organization during last week's House Ways and Means Committee that he is deeply misinformed not only about the exempt status of our organization but also the very detailed level of scrutiny the IRS gave our organization before awarding us our 501(c)3 designation," said Chris Brooks, co-founder of Chattanooga Organized for Action.
COA filed for tax-exempt status in the summer of 2011 and was granted exemption after a rigorous process by the IRS in January 2013. During this period, the grassroots organization was in constant talks with IRS agents, who provided them with screenshots of their online presence, relevant news clippings of their organization, and a detailed multi-question probe into the legal boundaries of their organization's activities within the federal guidelines for charitable non-profit organizations. COA's status was granted only after they submitted an 18-page report detailing the history, growth, and development of their organization over a three year period and how their organization transformed from a progressive activist group to an educational non-profit.
"For Congressman Paul Ryan to claim that organizations such as ours were not given due scrutiny for our activities is absolutely untrue," said Brooks. "Furthermore, our organization's legal status as a 501(c)3 organization is very distinct from that of the Tea Party and so-called Patriot groups, which applied for a 501(c)4 status."
COA's tax-exempt status is a 501(c)3 charitable organization, meaning that their primary activities are providing leadership development, educational workshops, and other valuable resources to grassroots communities in the Chattanooga area. COA does not give money to political campaigns, political parties, or engage in activities that in any way support or oppose candidates running for elected office. COA is not associated or affiliated with any political party or political agenda. COA has absolutely nothing to do with "Organizing for Action", the rebooted version of President Obama's presidential campaign.
Other tax-exempt organizations, like a 501(c)4 social welfare organizations, may have lobbying as their primary activity without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. 501(c)4 organizations may also influence electoral campaigns by running ads for or against candidates running for office.
" 501(c)4 organizations are significantly different from 501(c)3 organizations, such as Chattanooga Organized for Action, because of the amount of clear and uncontested political activity that they can and often do engage in," said Chris Brooks. "Furthermore, the lack of standards for what constitutes political activity is very murky and has provided billionaires with unlimited potential to rig out pay-to-play political system in their favor."
The proliferation of dark money 501 (c)(4)s and Super PACS, which allow for unlimited contributions to support candidates or issues, have created a dangerous threat to our nation's democracy by allowing a small amount of elite and wealth donors to wield tremendous power. According to Demos, a public policy think tank, $9 of every $10 dollars raised by a Super PAC came from 3,318 people giving at least $10,000 or more. That's equal to 0.0011% of the US population. And because 501 (c)(4)s are not required to reveal donors, the influence of wealth donors in elections is likely even greater.
“Elite interests use these non-profits and Super PACS to purchase the electoral process so that they can control the outcomes,” said Brooks. “Elite interests have to control the process because the outcomes – from planned poverty (or sequestration) to the loss of workers' rights to the destruction of our environment in order to support corporate profits – are so unpopular that if candidates ran on them they'd lose. This way, by the time you and I get to the polls, no matter how you vote, you just voted for the 1%”
The mission of 501 (c)(4)s and SuperPACS stands in stark contrast to groups like Chattanooga Organized for Action, which seek to work with grassroots, everyday people to learn the skills needed to take control of their communities for social change.
"Chattanooga Organized for Action does not believe in candidates – we believe in the people, “said co-founder Chris Brooks. “These dark money groups do not have the interests of everyday people at heart. We think it's about time that more light was shown on their workings.”