WSB-TV Had It Right About the HSUS

Who’s looking out for animals while HSUS spends its efforts being ‘Herd on the Hill’? 

Last week, WSB-TV aired an investigative report into how the primary focus of the Humane Society of the United States is on activist efforts and political/lobbying activities, not directly on animals in need.  As aptly described by the writer of the YesBiscuit! blog, finding the video of this report online has been like a game of whack-a-mole ever since.  The video keeps re-surfacing, only to be forced offline again within hours, so I won’t be posting new links to the video, instead I encourage searches for video using keywords such as Humane Society, HSUS, WSB, Expose, Investigation as it does reappear in an increasing number of locations. (NOTE: Since this article was released, I have been forwarded several stable links that remain available.  The Blogroll link for the video is now usable)

I do continue to ask, “How is it that the Humane Society of the Unites States (HSUS) continues to qualify as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt charity?”  I actually don’t care if the HSUS wants to be an animal rights lobbying organization, all power to them.   But if that’s what they want to be, I believe they need to be explicitly clear about their goals, and that their tax & charitable status should reflect it.   

 For the skeptics out there that don’t believe the extent of the political activity of the HSUS, employees and executive, I offer further examples of public declarations of legal, political and lobbying efforts made on behalf of the HSUS:

  • Michael Markarian, HSUS Executive VP for External Affairs and regular contributor to the Huffington Post, wrote of his involvement efforts on Capitol Hill in his article, ‘Herd on the Hill’
  • On the HSUS Legislation and Laws page, “These are just some of the issues we will be tackling in the 111th Congress. Click here for a more complete roster of pending and anticipated bills”   The roster includes 3 pages proposals for legislation covering topics from pets (companion animals) to scientific research and changes in educational curriculum
  • In his HSUS blog article, “Maine-stream” (May 15, 2009) HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle  makes reference to ” our landslide victory in Californiaon Proposition 2 last November”, “And this week, Maine Governor John Baldacci signed our billto ban both veal crates and gestation crates in his state”  and  “remember when Floridians favored an HSUS-authored initiative in 2002″
  • July 12, 2006, HSUS Vice-President Patricia Forkan was before the Federal Ways and Means Committee testifying in favor of a US-Peru Trade agreement
  • Don’t forget the extensive list of court cases that HSUS has initiated against or has supported against farmers, pet owners and/or breeders, hunters and others.

These are only a few examples of the extensive amount of legal, political and lobbying involvement of the HSUS, its employees, volunteers and executive.   Consider the following sections of the IRS website:

  • Regarding Lobbying:  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 here is an example of the kinds of emails being sent out to supporters
  • 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. (Click here for original reference)
  • Organizations other than churches and private foundations may elect the expenditure test under section 501(h) as an alternative method for measuring lobbying activity.  Under the expenditure test, the extent of an organization’s lobbying activity will not jeopardize its tax-exempt status, provided its expenditures, related to such activity, do not normally exceed an amount specified in section 4911.  This limit is generally based upon the size of the organization and may not exceed $1,000,000 (Click here for original reference)  Yet, in 2007  $1.36 million was granted just to Californians for Humane Farms, a lobbying group for the famous Proposition 2 located at the same mailing address as the California HSUS office. This doesn’t factor in the HSUS own direct activities.

And so, I continue to ask the question?  How does this permit the HSUS to continue to qualify for tax-exempt status?  Can someone who understands charity tax law better than I do explain it?

Copyright 2009 by Erica Saunders
All rights reserved