Charities Give to State Campaigns, Despite Law
ALBANY, March 17, 2009, The New York Times — For more than half a century, charities have been barred by federal law from making contributions to political campaigns.
But the news does not seem to have reached Albany.
A review of campaign-finance and federal tax records shows that at least 81 tax-exempt charities have given contributions to legislative candidates since 2005, with some organizations giving more than once to multiple candidates. While the amounts were not eye-popping, the contributions often flowed to lawmakers who helped the charities secure state money.
The donations — by museums, churches, hospitals, even Little Leagues and soccer clubs — underscore the lack of oversight of lawmakers’ fund-raising practices in the state.
The State Board of Elections said it did not have the jurisdiction to screen contributions by nonprofit groups, calling it a matter for the Internal Revenue Service. “There’s nothing we can say or do about it,” said Robert Brehm, a spokesman for the board.
The I.R.S. would not comment on the activities of specific charities. Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo’s office oversees charities on the state level, and a spokesman said the office can take action when there is evidence of systemic abuse of charitable money.
Federal law prohibits nonprofits classified as 501 (c) 3 organizations from making political donations or participating in campaigns. Those that do risk losing their tax-exempt status.
Asked about the contributions last week, legislators and charity officials offered several responses, including apologies, suggestions of clerical errors and defiance. Some of the contributions were given as the cost of admission to political fund-raisers, which some donors said they did not realize counted as campaign contributions.
Some politicians insisted it was legal to accept the money even if the charities were barred from giving it.
“This clearly documents a system that’s out of control,” said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group.