Pushing an envelope, or two

Here's a real stinker that showed up in our mailbox the other day: a glossy flyer, four pages of 8½-by-11 inches each, trying to sell the members of our household on the goofball Portland charter "reform" hash that's about to go before the voters:

It purports to tell us the "facts" about that misguided measure, No. 26-228, but funny thing, the only "facts" we get are the ones that make you want to vote yes.

Notice how they tell you who supports the measure, but make no mention of who opposes it, or why. And they misleadingly state that "RCV" (ranked-choice voting) is used in 56 jurisdictions, when in reality the actual version of "RCV" included in the Portland ballot measure is used nowhere, or almost nowhere. It's a total experiment, and a poorly constructed one at that, not to mention a solution in search of a problem. (Sixty percent of the current City Council are people of color.)

But back to me reading the flyer. At first, I laughed. Okay, you try to sell the thing by acting like you're a neutral conveyor of "facts." Then I flipped to the return address on the back to see where this came from. I expected to see "Yes on 26-228 Committee" or something like that. But no! It's "paid for by Coalition of Communities of Color" in Portland.

So I go over to Orestar, to see who gives money to that political committee, and lo and behold, they aren't there. Instead, over on Guidestar, you find that "Coalition of Communities of Color" is a section 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to racial justice this-and-that. 

Now, in order to be eligible for tax exemption under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for one or more of the following purposes: "religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition... or for the prevention of cruelty to childeren or animals." That's it. The only two ways this group could fit, it seems to me, are charitable and educational. And from the annual reports they file with the IRS, I'm not seeing charity work. Therefore, I think they're either educational or not eligible for tax exemption.

I guess they'll say the thinly veiled endorsement of the measure that they mailed me is "education." After all, at the bottom of the inside of the flyer it says, "LEARN MORE and make an informed decision on MEASURE 26-228." But come on, that doesn't turn their blatant advocacy into education.

Moreover, in order for an organization to be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3), "no substantial part of" its activities can be "carrying on propaganda" or "attempting to influence legislation." The measure certainly seems to be legislation for that purpose. Isn't sending out a full-color four-page flyer describing all the benefits, but none of the criticisms, of a ballot measure, a "substantial" lobbying expenditure? I'm not an expert on nonprofit law, but it sure seems like it to me.

Meanwhile, doesn't this mailer make the "coalition" a political action committee that should be filing on Orestar? The Oregon secretary of state's webite says, "A political action committee is a combination of two or more individuals, or a person other than an individual, that receives a contribution or makes an expenditure for the purpose of supporting or opposing a candidate, measure, or political party." Sure seems like an expenditure was made here, and a big one.

And it isn't like the "coalition" is hiding its enthusiasm for the measure. Here's a shot from its Twitter account, referring to the same vote-count nonsense that's being pushed at the county level:

And here's one of several retweets by the "coalition" on the City of Portland measure:

It's little wonder why they love these wacky proposals so much. If you go their web page, you see that one member of the organization's governing board is Candace Avalos, who was on the quaint, naïve city charter reform "commission" that brewed up the toxic stew that is Measure 26-228. This is a very small town. (A past IRS form for the "coalition" shows that Carmen Rubio, now a city commissioner, was also a "coalition" director at one time.)

If I were an ambitious attorney at the IRS, or the Oregon Department of Justice, I could have a lot of fun with the flyer. But I'm sure no one in those offices will care enough to take even a cursory look. The nonprofit industrial complex strikes again.

In any event, there's a fine alternative measure ready to go in the May election. If you really want to help get Portland back on its feet – it's going to take a decade or more – vote no on 26-228 now and save your yes vote for the spring.


  1. This is ludicrous. The ODJ will not be bringing this suit. Could a private citizen or group have the standing to do so?


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