Watchdog Files IRS Complaint Against Public Lands Foe for Failing to Report Lobbying Activity
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 27, 2019
Contact: Bryan Dewan, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, called on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate whether the Montana-based anti-public lands nonprofit, Citizens for Balanced Use (CBU), violated its nonprofit tax-exempt status by engaging in substantial, unreported lobbying activity.
CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “Public charities are granted tax-exempt status because they agree to adhere to a strict set of standards. CBU appears to have willfully violated the rules for charities by running an extensive lobbying campaign against public lands and failing to report it to the IRS. The IRS should open an investigation into CBU and, if warranted, revoke CBU’s tax-exempt status.”
Citizens for Balanced Use (CBU) is a 501(c)(3) public charity based in Gallatin Gateway, Montana. CBU advocates for “active forest management and responsible resource development on our federally managed public lands.” Research conducted by the conservation group Western Values Projects reveals that CBU has had extensive lobbying contacts with state and federal officials yet failed to disclose the lobbying activity on its annual tax returns.
CBU openly admits on its homepage, balanceduse.org, that it “engages with state and federal legislators to create and support policies beneficial to multiple use management of our public lands.” CBU’s lists of its annual accomplishments explain how the organization lobbies public officials by traveling to state capitols to testify about legislation, meets with state regulators about regulations, and sends advocacy letters to members of the U.S. Senate. In one instance, CBU advocated for Montana Senator Steve Daines to introduce legislation removing wilderness protections for certain public lands in Montana. Sen. Daines subsequently introduced the bill and cited CBU’s support of the legislation in his press materials.
Despite CBU’s extensive lobbying activities, the organization has failed to disclose these activities to the IRS on its annual 990 tax forms in its Schedule C form. CBU claimed that it did not “attempt to influence foreign, national, state or local legislation, including any attempt to influence public opinion on a legislative matter or referendum” through “direct contact with legislators, their staffs, [or] government officials.”
By failing to report any lobbying activity on its annual returns, CBU appears to have violated federal tax law. Additionally, based on its own reports, CBU may have engaged in “substantial” lobbying activity, which is prohibited for 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Anyone who willfully submits a false tax return may have violated the prohibition on fraud and false statements, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500,000 and three years imprisonment. Additionally, if the IRS concludes CBU violated the law, it could lose its nonprofit status.
Mr. Stevens continued, “Citizens for Balanced Use is not exempt from the laws governing public charities. If CBU wants to lobby public officials to take away protections for public lands, it needs to follow the rules. The IRS should hold CBU accountable for misleading the public about its lobbying activity.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.