- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2001

The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) tends to give people something to talk about. Since it was organized in 1985, RAN has led efforts to preserve and protect the arboreal regions by any human (or simian) means necessary, whether boycotting companies or scaling towers to proclaim their pithy protests to the hoi polloi. RAN's annual report boasts, "We work hard to combine sophisticated strategies with radical demands."

The problem is that RAN, like other advocacy groups interested in paying salaries through foundation money, claims (at least to the IRS) to be a non-profit educational foundation. As a listed 501(c)(3), RAN survives and even thrives on tax-deductible donations, even while engaging in advocacy activities explicitly prohibited to such organizations.

RAN's actions could only charitably be described as educational. After all, joining with the Ruckus Society to set up a five-story anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) banner in downtown Seattle during the 1999 protests surely educated the public on proper methods of mayhem. Organizing a day of "ethical shoplifting" against Home Depot probably provided jobs to otherwise out-of-work petty thieves. Preventing public nuisances, such as Bonnie Raitt or Julia "Butterfly" Hill, from once again assuming the stage could certainly be called a community service. (Both were arrested after a recent RAN-staged sit-in against a lumber company.)

The fact is that by directing and organizing such activities, RAN has made itself an advocacy organization, and it should be asked to act as such by the IRS. The IRS was recently reminded of this through a complaint filed against RAN by Frontiers of Freedom, a non-profit think tank in Fairfax.

If the IRS doesn't disqualify RAN from continuing to run with its tax-exempt status, it should at least show the same charity to other public-service minded organizations. The Columbia Journalism School should receive it for helping Al Gore find his true calling as an academic male after months of an alpha-identity crisis. Alfred A. Knopf Inc., with its $10 million book deal to former President Bill Clinton, whose most memorable work was usually videotaped, has effectively become a non-profit. And it's always been charitable, but never profitable, to be a Chicago Cubs fan.

RAN has already begun a sophisticated campaign with the radical demand that it retain its tax-free status. Perhaps it should try hanging a banner from the Washington Monument or, failing that, ask singer Willie Nelson to help organize a boycott of the IRS.


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