- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2002

Another environmental group has found its charitable status under attack after a conservative think tank filed a complaint asking the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The nine-page complaint, filed Friday by the Frontiers of Freedom, charged that the council "routinely" engages in political advocacy and lobbying on behalf of environmental causes, despite IRS rules that place strict limits on the advocacy activities of nonprofit charitable organizations.
"NRDC has apparently decided to have it both ways: operate as an advocacy organization and take tax-deductible contributions," said the complaint. "This is unacceptable to taxpayers who are footing the bill for advocacy activities they may not support. It is also clearly prohibited by the IRS."
Alan Metrick, NRDC spokesman, said he hadn't seen the complaint but insisted that the council was breaking no tax rules. "We are very scrupulous and very careful about following all the IRS regulations and are confident we will be shown to be correct," he said.
Call it the Al Capone strategy: The complaint comes as the latest salvo by conservatives to rein in the political activity of their liberal foes by challenging their tax-exempt status. Frontiers of Freedom fired the first round last summer with a similar complaint against the Rainforest Action Network.
Last month, the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise followed with a complaint against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which accused the group of supporting what some consider to be domestic terrorist organizations, such as the Animal Liberation Front.
George Landrith, president of the Virginia-based Frontiers of Freedom, which frequently clashes with the council, said his organization wants simply to "level the playing field," not silence opposing views.
"We want to beat them in the marketplace of ideas, but it's like college, and we want as many scholarships as they have," Mr. Landrith said. "We're just trying to require them to play by the same rules as we play by."
As far as he knows, no liberal groups have filed similar complaints against their conservative opponents, and there's a reason for that. During the Clinton administration, conservatives complained that they were being targeted by the IRS in what they called a deliberate political ploy to curb their activities.
As a result, many conservative groups were forced to become more scrupulous in their financial affairs. Their liberal counterparts, on the other hand, enjoyed a more forgiving relationship with the IRS, according to conservatives.
"It's not that we're more virtuous. It might mean that we spent the last eight years biting our nails over these IRS investigations," said Mr. Landrith. "Whereas they spent the last eight years knowing they could do no wrong. So they just haven't been under the pressure we have."
The complaint states that the New York-based NRDC claims to spend just $360,246, or 1 percent, of its $33.5 million budget for "legislative activities" and less than 0.1 percent on grass-roots lobbying that would be allowed under the tax code.
Most of its budget went for educational activities, as required for groups holding 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.
But the NRDC's list of activities show that these figures "grossly understate the actual cost of the NRDC's extensive legislative and grass-roots advocacy campaigns," according to the complaint.

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