Russell Pearce: Crossing Line on 501(c)4 Status of Ban Amnesty Now?

Recalled state Senate President Russell Pearce has just taken the bait proffered by Bob Worsley, his opponent in the Legislative District 25 Republican primary for state Senate. And in doing so, Pearce may have further endangered the 501(c)4 status of the organization he currently fronts, Ban Amnesty Now.

Pearce did this by responding to a Worsley press release slamming Pearce's boycott of Arizona businesses that advertise with this paper, thereby officially mixing his own campaign for state Senate with BAN's ineptly-named "buy-cott" of New Times.

The statement released today by Pearce reads, in part: 

"On Tuesday, Bob Worsley's campaign attacked me and like-minded Arizonans for our efforts to draw attention to-and business away from-the Phoenix New Times and its corporate owner, The Village Voice. While hypocritically attacking me for some imagined `divisive rhetoric,' Worsley's campaign offered a strangely disconnected defense of the Phoenix New Times while asking voters to draw a connection between Congressman Raul Grijalva and me. Worsley's rhetoric was obviously meant to be divisive, but he could not pick a more ill fitting pair than Grijalva and me."

I do not know for certain if the Worsley camp intended to lay a trap for Pearce when it slammed the 12-point loser by comparing him with the tres-lefty Grijalva, who initially supported a boycott of Arizona over Pearce's Senate Bill 1070. Either way, the effect is the same.

See, BAN is organized as a non-profit "social welfare organization," ironic as that sounds. It's primary purpose cannot be campaigning for a particular candidate, as it is now doing in the case of Pearce, who acts as its president and hosts BAN's radio hour on KFNX 1100 AM.

Pearce became BAN's president in late January. At that time McCaffrey told me Pearce would have to resign from being BAN's president and host of its AM show, if Pearce decided to seek public office. But when Pearce announced his run for the LD 25 post on March 19, he did not resign, and he continues to host the 60 minutes of air time BAN purchases from KFNX.

As I pointed out at length in a previous blog post, Pearce's stubborn refusal to relinquish his duties at BAN creates a host of legal and ethical issues both for him and the organization. 

Obviously, McCaffrey understood this as well, which is why he made the statement about Pearce resigning back in January.

Indeed, the IRS' website notes of such organizations that, "The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office."

A 501(c)4 like BAN may participate in some lobbying and political campaign activities, but when the organization's president is also a candidate for office, a candidate hosting what is essentially an hour-long radio ad paid for by that same 501(c)4, the conflict should be apparent to all.

Shortly after I wrote about this problem for Pearce and McCaffrey, the pair announced a boycott of New Times' advertisers, but the target was then, and is now, me. For several years, I have been an unflagging critic of Pearce, his corruption, his pathological need to lie, and his odious nativism. But it was the blog post on BAN's 501(c)4 status that launched a thousand e-mails, as it were.

As Pearce is a candidate for office, everything he does is fair game. And so Worsley attacked Pearce's boycott in a recent press release, because Pearce was attacking local businesses and seeking to harm them (a boycott being a tactic Republicans don't normally engage in).

By answering Worsley's criticism, Pearce has further muddied already muddy waters regarding his relationship with BAN, and he has created evidence that could be used against him in complaints to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Arizona Secretary of State.

Those donating to BAN are, by proxy, assisting Pearce's campaign. And whatever salary Pearce may be receiving, along with the hour of free radio time, should be counted as in-kind contributions.

Similarly, the voters of LD 25 should ask themselves if Pearce is running against Worsley or New Times.

Pearce believes the rules of politics do not apply to him. His way of dealing with such rules is to run roughshod over them, and dare you to act. 

However, like with the Olivia Cortes scandal (which he undoubtedly knew about), Pearce's scofflaw attitude eventually will backfire, leaving him the loser once again come election day.

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