The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) – a national, tax-exempt organization not affiliated with local animal shelters and the most powerful anti-hunting group in the nation – has drawn fire from a group of lawmakers who question its status as a qualified 501 (c)(3) organization.
HSUS supported a ballot initiative in Missouri (Proposition B) by pouring in some $1.85 million (plus another $300,000 in non-cash contributions) into its Missouri front group’s bank account.
The measure passed by a slim three-point margin and sets regulations for the state’s dog breedersm including how many dogs are allowed per facility. At the root of the issue is whether the HSUS attempted to influence legislation as a “substantial part” of its activities.
In a letter to Inspector General Eric Thorson in Washington, D.C., six members of Congress from Missouri and Alaska — Don Young (R-Alaska), Vicky Hartzer (R-Missouri), Blaine Luetkemeyer
(R-Missouri), Jo Ann Emerson (R-Missouri), Sam Graves (R-Missouri), and Billy Long (R-Missouri) — have requested a federal investigation into the level of funding and participation of HSUS in Missouri’s affairs.
The letter follows previous letters to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman and Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner that have resulted in no remedial action.
The members of Congress state the case this way, “We believe that HSUS’s own public documents show beyond question that lobbying is a ‘substantial part’ of its activities, and feel that IRS’s failure to act is attributable to the politically-sensitive nature of HSUS’s activities.”
“We certainly understand that 501 (c)(3) organizations are allowed to participate in lobbying activities. However, lobbying not only is a substantial part of HSUS’s overall activities; it often appears to be the only reason for HSUS’s existence.”
By its own admission, HSUS spends more than twice as much on “Advocacy and public policy” than any other category of expenses. The Proposition B ballot initiative was heavily financed by HSUS. Campaign disclosure forms show that HSUS donated more than $2.1 million of the $4.8 million raised by proponents of the measure.
The lawmakers also cite other efforts in numerous examples of HSUS to influence legislation by having its employees urging the public to contact members of legislative bodies for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation.
As part of the investigation, the legislators are requesting the IRS to apply what it calls the “Substantial Part Test” to determine whether an organization has run afoul of conditions of its tax-exempt status.
According to IRS.gov, the test is conducted as follows: “Whether an organization’s attempts to influence legislation, i.e., lobbying, constitutes a substantial part of its overall activities is determined on the basis of all the pertinent facts and circumstances in each case. The IRS considers a variety of factors, including the time devoted (by both compensated and volunteer workers) and the expenditures devoted by the organization to the activity, when determining whether the lobbying activity is substantial.”
“No group should be allowed to maintain tax-exempt status solely due to its political leanings or power. If HSUS is not complying with the law, it should be investigated and disciplined just like any other organization, as taxpayers would be effectively subsidizing a political organization.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Glen Wunderlich is an outdoors writer for The Argus-Press. He can be reached by sending email to email@example.com.