Thursday, June 27, 2013

Too Soon to Celebrate

In the wake of the SCOTUS decisions yesterday on same-sex marriage, everybody is jumping for joy.  Stop, people, and look at what they actually said.  In the DOMA case, the court threw the entire business of regulating same-sex marriage back to the states.  The majority opinion said:
The federal government, throughout our history, has deferred to state-law policy decisions with respect to domestic relations.
Now count:  how many states do we have?  Fifty.  How many states consider a same-sex marriage legal?  Twelve (thirteen once the appellate court stay is lifted in California).  How many states actively ban same-sex marriage in some way?  I counted thirty-three on the Wikipedia list, but your count may vary by 1 or 2; and a lot of these (I didn't count) don't even allow domestic partnerships.  Plus 5 states with no opinion.  Just take a look at the map in the Wikipedia article:

Same-sex marriage status in the United States by state

Come on, people.  This is good news for the federal benefits etc. of the residents of the few states that allow same-sex marriage.  If you live, however, anywhere in the South, or on the Great Plains, or anywhere except California, Washington, and the New England states, your gay marriage is toast unless you can convince your local legislators to rule otherwise.  Best of British luck on that.

Because the flip side of a decision that the states can decide about same-sex marriage is that any Congressional action to approve it nationally (assuming you could get such a thing through the current House, which is crazy thinking) would also be unconstitutional, because it's a states' rights issue.

Keep raising money for the campaign, folks.  You still have a long row to hoe.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The IRS and the Tea Party

KQED broadcast a segment today about the Congressional hearings currently in progress on the IRS's "persecution" of various "Tea Party" and "patriotic" organizations which tried to get tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4).  I've already expressed my opinion on 501(c)(4) groups (see Fix the Damn Tax Code, posted on May 21).  I don't believe that tax code section should even exist, because it gives tax exempt status, under cover of "social welfare," to organizations that wouldn't know an actual social welfare project if they fell over it in the street.

A blog post from the Washington Post suggests that the primary groups 501(c)(4) is intended for are volunteer fire departments and civic leagues; I concede that those groups do indeed contribute to social welfare.  I don't see the San Fernando Valley Patriots (see below) under that rubric; but the definition of what is allowed is frankly fuzzy (another reason to get rid of this).  To see just how fuzzy, read the official IRS definition:

Types of Organizations Exempt under Section 501(c)(4)

Pay particular attention to the link  Organizations that engage in substantial lobbying activitiesto see how fuzzy.

But section 501(c)(4) does exist, and these groups tried to get the status, and the IRS had the nerve - the gall - to ask them questions about how they operate!  I can still hear the sweet, can-you-believe-this tones of Ms. Karen Kenny, of the San Fernando Valley Patriots, complaining that they had asked her organization (I summarize, but read the KQED text) if it had ever broken the law during protests, and whether they ever planned actions that would break the law.  "We're the San Fernando Valley Patriots," she said offendedly, "not Occupy Oakland."

I have news for you, lady.  Part of the IRS' job is to find out if applicants for a 501(c)(4) exemption are doing more political organizing than the law allows (however much that is).  This may come as a surprise, but the San Fernando Valley Patriots are not above the law.  Neither are organizations that have the words "Tea Party" in their name.  If you want this tax exemption you still have to comply with the existing laws and rules, and the IRS is entirely within its mission to ask you this stuff.

I still think that 501(c)(4) "social welfare" organizations are political organizers in sheep's clothing, and they should be treated like political organizations and forced to disclose their donors.  But as the law stands, they're entitled to tax exemption if political activity is not their primary focus.  And that means that when the IRS asks them what they do and how they do it, it is merely doing the job we pay it to do.