On November 16th, Americans for Fair Taxation (AFFT) held a FairTax event at the Gwinnett Civic Center in Georgia billed as the FairTax “Truth” Rally.
Sharing the podium at the event were Ken Hoagland (AFFT Communications Director), John Oxendine (Republican, Georgia Insurance Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate), John Linder (Republican 7th District Congressman, HR-25 sponsor, and FairTax book author), Neal Boortz (conservative talk radio host and FairTax Book author), Mike Huckabee (Republican governor and presidential candidate), and Saxby Chambliss (Republican Georgia Senator and re-election candidate).
The event was sponsored by AFFT and heavily promoted by Georgia and other southeast state AFFT volunteer leadership. AFFT was even collecting RSVPs for the event on the fairtax.org web site, which, to my knowledge was a first.
So, what’s the problem?Well, the timing, location, and official participants in this event were all in support of the re-election of Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican, in his December 2nd run-off against Democratic Party challenger Jim Martin.
This election has taken on national significance because of the possibility that a Democratic Party victory may give the Democrats a 60-seat (and possibly filibuster-proof) majority in the United States Senate.
The premise for the event was to respond to advertisements paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that obliquely attacked the FairTax, which Chambliss supports. Those ads were running in the weeks just before the general election. For all I know, the ads may still be running, although I haven’t heard about them since. In any case, the DSCC cleverly avoided mention of the FairTax in the ads, so one would probably have to have already had some knowledge about the FairTax in order to connect the dots.
After the veiled attack ads against the FairTax on behalf of Chambliss’ opponent started appearing, there were two events prior to the election that purported to respond to the attacks. There was a big FairTax press conference at the capitol in Atlanta on October 17th and an event billed as the “Taking the Gloves Off” Rally in Macon on November 2nd.
Then there’s the timing of the event. It wasn’t announced in the immediate aftermath of the veiled attack ads appearing on Georgia television. It was announced well after the general election and after it was clear that Senator Chambliss was forced into a run-off election. If Chambliss had won on November 4th, would this event have even been held? There were plenty of other races where similar attack ads were run. Did AFFT plan a “Truth” rally in any of the other states?
I’ve seen some photographs taken at the event. There were people decked out in FairTax regalia. There was even a FairTax literature table.
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what other groups may have shown up, but I’ll make a guess that there were no other organizations that participated in the event.
I don’t have a transcript of the speeches, but it was clear that all of the speech makers were building up to the finale — the speech by Senator Chambliss.
So, it was clearly an AFFT event. Wasn’t it just as clearly focused on re-electing a Republican candidate for the United State Senate?
So, what’s the problem?
Well, AFFT, by its charter, purports to be nonpartisan and educational.
AFFT makes a big deal about this on its web site and in volunteer materials. Volunteers are forewarned about doing anything that connects AFFT to electioneering for a political candidate.
Does sponsoring an event that, on its face, is political and highly partisan in support of a Republican candidate a violation of AFFT’s charter?
Well, perhaps the event was educational. I’ve heard that there was a lot of talk about the FairTax. Isn’t that educational in nature?
Possibly. But for all intents and purposes, most, if not all, of those in attendance were already FairTax supporters or brought there by FairTax supporters to raise the body count.
I’m sure it was exciting for the attendees to hear all these people, most at least minor celebrities, speak to them. But weren’t the speakers all speaking to the choir, as they say?
So has AFFT, by its sponsorship and support of this event, jeopardized its 501(c)(4) nonprofit status?
I don’t have the answer to this, but it seems that, on its face, AFFT has violated its own rules, rules that were made to protect its nonprofit status.
If AFFT did violate the IRS and its own rules, was there some overriding benefit that it attained? It was a one-day story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I couldn’t find any other media outside Georgia that featured the story.
Were hundreds of new FairTax supporters signed up? I didn’t see any reports that there were any new converts.
Will Senator Chambliss be re-elected? That question will be answered on December 2nd.
Is any of this a big enough benefit for the risk?
I also have some questions about money for which I can’t find answers. How much did this event cost AFFT? Who paid for the use of the Gwinnett Center? Were any of the official guests given anything of value to secure their attendance? Were any of their transportation costs paid for by AFFT?
I don’t know, but I’m going to speculate that AFFT spent some money, if only for the attendant costs of getting Mr. Hoagland from Houston to Georgia and back.
I also know that two days after the event, AFFT sent out a message to its database promoting Governor Huckabee’s book. Does a massive mailing like this incur a cost to AFFT? Was this a quid pro quo for his attendance?
And how does a politically-inspired event like this compare to events like the Republican National Convention in September and the CPAC convention coming up in February to which AFFT hasn’t provided monetary support? Are the criteria that AFFT uses to sponsor or promote events publicly available?
So what happens now that the lights have gone out at the Gwinnett Center in Georgia?
What’s the line between educational activity and candidate support? Who draws the line? Are there any guidelines or is it just a matter of semantics?
Is AFFT hindering the goal of attracting Democrats and independents to the cause by sponsoring events like this one? Was there not a single prominent Democrat FairTax supporter who could be found to add some nonpartisan balance to the “Truth” rally. In neighboring South Carolina, Democrat Bob Conley was running prominently on the FairTax against incumbent flat-taxer Lindsey Graham. Was Conley even invited? If you’re not a Republican, do you feel that this event was nonpartisan?
There were other Congressional election battles in 2008 where candidates that support the FairTax were attacked with similar ads. Did AFFT defend the FairTax in those races? Should it have? Does it depend on the stature of the candidate being attacked? Does it depend on whether they are an incumbent or a challenger? Does it depend on whether the candidate is from Georgia?
Does AFFT have an official, written rationale for which events it will sponsor and support monetarily?
What’s your view of the event and this analysis? Am I totally off-base here?
Or, Houston, do we have a problem?
Fair Tax Act (HR-25)– The only stimulus the economy needs!
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