Sunday, March 04, 2012

Jason Lewis hates nonprofits, unless they're his friends

This morning, "America's Mr. Right," Jason Lewis, published a broadside in the Star Tribune against nonprofits and their privileged tax treatment.
Nevertheless, as long as we're talking about paying our fair share, it's time we take a look at perhaps one of the greatest loopholes of them all: the tax-exempt organization. You see, tax-exempt entities raise massive amounts of capital, and what others might refer to as "profits," they call expenses.
Lewis then goes on to list what he calls a "rogue's gallery" of scary local nonprofits like Minnesota Public Radio, MinnPost, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and Transit for Livable Communities. All of the nonprofits that Lewis trots out as examples are media organizations that he dislikes, or folks working for causes he disagrees with.

Screenshot from Civitas Institute webpage
Then again, Lewis just got back from a gig as a headline speaker at the Conservative Leadership Conference in North Carolina, sponsored and paid for by the Civitas Institute. It practically goes without saying that the Civitas Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is supposedly "nonpartisan," yet somehow spearheaded a conference with the theme "Battleground North Carolina." I'm sure that Jason Lewis donated his time and usual speaker's fee in recognition of the excellent work done by this nonprofit organization.

Lewis's Sunday column was particularly harsh on wealthy people using nonprofit organizations to avoid paying taxes:
In fact, these private foundations alone, says Virginia business attorney Ross C. Reeves, control $650 billion in wealth and, depending on the year, have investment income of around $60 billion -- none of which is subject to income taxes. This has proved to be a convenient tool for the Warren Buffets of the world to claim an immediate write-off, reduce their estate tax, and promote such charitable causes as reproductive rights, saving the planet, and world peace. All the while clamoring for higher taxes on someone else.
The Civitas Institute is a private foundation that got 99% of its funding from North Carolina millionaire businessman and GOP mega-donor Art Pope. In fact, Civitas owes its existence to Art Pope. And Art Pope knows a thing or two using private foundations as convenient tools to generate tax write-offs, he's been doing it for years. Heck, the Pope Foundation failed to file federal tax forms for eight straight years! All the while, his private foundation controls over $150 million in assets, which are shielded from taxes and used to advance Pope's conservative political agenda.

Like so much that passes for conservative political thought, Lewis's contempt for nonprofits is pure projection. The right has used private foundations and nonprofit "think tanks" to shield assets and push their regressive agenda for years. But it's particularly contemptible to see Lewis's column published in the Star Tribune literally hours after he got back from palling around with Art Pope.

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