PARAZINO: IRS misses a legitimate mark

Union organizing isn’t a proper nonprofit function

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As the Internal Revenue Service scandal continues to widen, it is becoming increasingly clear that some groups with left-leaning agendas were given preferential treatment. Case in point: The Restaurant Opportunities Center, a labor union front group masquerading as a nonprofit, which routinely ignores IRS reporting requirements without facing any consequences for it.

The center has been at it for years. Founded in 2002 by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, the Restaurant Opportunity Center has as its goal to “organize the 99 percent of the [restaurant] industry that doesn’t have a union.” A key component of this strategy is lobbying for government mandates like minimum-wage hikes and mandated paid leave, which the organization has consistently done at the local, state and federal levels.

There’s just one problem: The Restaurant Opportunities Center, which is registered as a 501(c)(3) charity, doesn’t report its lobbying to the IRS, as required by law. Thanks to the IRS’ apparent unwillingness to investigate it, the organization is able to operate free of the strict lobbying limits federal law places on all charities.

Consider a few of the center’s recent lobbying campaigns. The organization was very active in support of recent mandated paid leave battles before the city councils of New York and Philadelphia. It has also lobbied actively in a number of states, including Illinois, where the center’s lobbyists met with more than 20 state lawmakers to push legislation that would increase the state’s minimum wage.

It’s a similar story at the federal level. In recent years, the Restaurant Opportunities Center has aggressively lobbied Congress in support of the Wages Act. The organization also runs an annual “lobby day” in Washington, where its representatives meet with congressional office staffs and advocate its union agenda. This past April, its lobbyists met with Reps. George Miller, California Democrat, and Donna F. Edwards, Maryland Democrat, and Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, to push for the so-called Fair Minimum Wage Act. Just last month, the center’s representatives attended a White House minimum-wage “strategy session.”

The government requires nonprofits such as the Restaurant Opportunities Center to report their lobbying activities for good reason: The general public has a right to know who’s trying to influence their elected representatives. This is particularly appropriate when a group chooses, as the center does, to hold itself out as a charity, which lets it sidestep federal labor laws and be exempt from paying taxes.

Disclosure is even more important when the group in question receives taxpayer funding — which the organization does. Since 2005, it has received more than $2 million in taxpayer funds, including money from the Department of Labor’s Harwood Grants program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health program.

In other words, taxpayers may be subsidizing the Restaurant Opportunities Center’s unreported lobbying activities — a perverse subversion of representative government. This is even more astounding when you consider that the organization is currently part of an investigation by the House of Representatives for its “history of intimidation toward opponents and management problems.” The taxpayer deserves better than to unwittingly fund such an organization.

In light of the scandals engulfing the IRS, the fact that the Restaurant Opportunities Center has escaped scrutiny raises serious questions. That’s why we’ve submitted a formal complaint to the IRS, requesting that they investigate the group’s noncompliance with federal law. After all, the IRS has a duty to protect the taxpayer by pursuing organizations that ignore the laws that keep taxpayers informed and our political system transparent.

Mike Paranzino is communications director for ROC Exposed.

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