WSB-TV Investigates HSUS Fundraising Practises: Is There More?

It was a ground-breaking day on Thursday May 14, 2009, the first day a mainstream media organization dared to publish an investigation into the fundraising practises of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). WSB-TV, the Atlanta GA affiliate for ABC published an article and video segment titled Where Humane Society Donations Really Go”.

The WSB-TV article addressed a number of important points that are commonly mis-understood about the Humane Society of the United States:

By Friday morning, there was a response from HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle claiming WSB-TV had used discredited source information from the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). It is difficult to understand how Mr. Pacelle can take the position that the CCF information has been discredited when it is able to be verified independently using HSUS IRS documents and HSUS press releases. Mr. Pacelle also indicated that all funds raised for the Hurricane Katrina crisis have been spent helping Katrina families and pets, yet this is also established as dubious, based on HSUS press releases. (unless introducing items such as cock-fighting bills are counted in this position) By Friday evening, all links to this ground-breaking and courageous article had disappeared from the WSB-TV website.

Yet, the most interesting result of the investigation is a point not (yet) pursued by WSB-TV. Is the HSUS in compliance with requirements to maintain its 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt status? According to Cheryl McAuliffe, Georgia Director for the HSUS, activist and lobbying efforts form the bulk of her activities. Yet, according to IRS 501 (c) 3 regulations:

In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.

Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure. It does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies.

An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

Yet the Humane Society of the Unites States dedicates a significant amount of resources to its efforts to introduce and influence legislation as demonstrated by the portion of its website tracking HSUS legislative efforts at the state and federal levels as well as through ballot initiatives.

This raises an important question. With an income of over 152* million annually, is the IRS being cheated out of substanial revenue if the Humane Society of the United States is not in compliance with the 501 (c) 3 charitable organization requirements? The HSUS claimed involvement in 140 legislative bills at the state level in 2008 alone, has claimed credit for a great deal of legislation in 2009 and publicly acknowledges ‘urging’ assorted legislators on a variety of bills.

It seems fishy to me & I simply don’t understand why the mainstream media doesn’t find it interesting as well.

Copyright 2009 by Erica Saunders
All rights reserved

*CORRECTION: Originally stated 200 million should have referred to HSUS assets. HSUS 2007 gross income was just over 152 million. Percentages have been corrected to reflect this.