'Twas the Night before New Year

by Lateefah Williams*, 12/16/2008

'Twas the night before New Year
And all through the Nation
The people were hopeful
Looking toward Inauguration.

Nonprofits were happy
Their voices might be heard
And silencing through
Rules and surveillance may be deterred.

We've been taking great care
To preserve nonprofit speech rights
Now we reflect on the past year
And the battles we had to fight.

There was Pulpit Freedom Sunday
Misguided at best
Where 33 pastors
Challenged the IRS.

They believe partisan electioneering
From the pulpit is OK
And churches should be tax-exempt
No matter what the preacher may say.

It would give religious groups rights
Other groups don't enjoy
And create an indirect taxpayer subsidy
For partisan sermons and other ploys.

The elections brought claims
Of voter suppression
But nonprofits were active
With voter protection.

There also were claims
Of voter fraud
But nonprofit research shows
That most claims are hogwash.

Helping voters register
By some states was precluded
But nonprofits pushed back
To make sure none were excluded.

Climate change groups
Ran into rules on campaign finance
That hindered their advocacy
On non-electoral issues they advance.

What constitutes express advocacy?
It isn't defined
But it triggers FEC limits
On donors and money combined.

Then the American Issues Project
Was news around the election
Its ads connecting Obama with Ayers
Were quite the obsession.

But it did raise the issue
Of the role of a 501(c)(4)
And how far such groups can go
Without a history of issues they explore.

The debate over donor disclosure
Was all in the press
Litigation was rampant
It is quite a mess.

The ACLU deftly exposed
The government error
Of spying on nonviolent advocacy
As if it were terror.

Our report Collateral Damage
Showed how laws meant to make us secure
Make aid hard to manage
And fairness standards poor.

With a New Year near
And a brand new administration
Hopefully, diminishing the speech rights of nonprofits
Will no longer be a sensation.

So as we look to the New Year
With 2008 in hindsight
Happy New Year to all
It's been quite a fight.