AIDS housing funding survives challenge in Houston city council

Helena Brown

The city funding for four Houston nonprofits providing housing to at-risk populations living with HIV/AIDS survived a challenge from city council member Helena Brown last Wednesday. Under consideration by the council were ordinances to dispense almost $2.5 million in federal funds managed by the city to the SRO Housing Corporation, Bering Omega Community Services, Catholic Charities and SEARCH Homeless services.

Brown initially used a parliamentary procedure known as a “tag” to delay the funding for the Houston SRO Housing Corporation and Bering Omega. Any council member may tag an item under consideration, delaying the vote on the item for one week. Brown explained that she objected to government funding of charitable entities:

“I spoke last week on this very issue on grant funds and the idea that we are, you know, fighting with other entities and other governments for grant funds that really isn’t there. The federal government is in a worse condition than the city of Houston and to continue to try to milk the system where there’s no milk, is just, I mean, we’re fighting with our brothers, as I said last week, to get credit for who is going to push a friend over the cliff… We need to continue to look at the private sector and the business sector. Because even, I attended this event where this wonderful speaker was talking about the generosity of Americans and 80% of donations to nonprofits come from private individuals, not even corporations, and we need to continue to rely on that right now because the government right now, we’re broke – we need to face that reality.”

Other council members spoke passionately of the need for continued funding, arguing that by assisting people living with HIV/AIDS in achieving independence, particularly those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,  the programs added to the tax based and help insure long-term stability.

“We don’t live in a perfect a world,” said freshman council member Mike Laster (the first out gay man to serve on the Houston City Council). “These organizations do their very best to raise money to care for the people among us, but they still need to reach out to entities that have that kind of capital, and by the grace of God this city and this government as an entity has some of that capitol, and I’m very proud that we’re able to provide those kind of services to some of my community members.”

Council member Wanda Adams, who serves as chair of the council’s Housing and Community Development Committee, also spoke in favor of continuing funding. Council member Ellen Cohen, whose district contains both SRO Housing and Bering Omega, spoke of how her life had personally been touched by AIDS:

“One of the first young men to pass away in New York City was a cousin of mine of something [then] called a very rare form on pneumonia… which we now realize was not. So I understand the need for these kinds of services. On a personal note I worked with Bering and I know all the fine work that they do, I’m addressing all the items but I’m particularly addressing [the Bering Omega funding] and feel it’s absolutely critical that we provide the kind of funding items, and that we are, in fact, our brother’s and our sister’s keepers.

After Laster asked Mayor Annise Parker the procedure for overriding a tag Brown removed her tag, but raised a new concern about HIV/AIDS housing, saying that her office had requested a list of the owners of apartment units where those receiving rental assistance lived. City Attorney David Feldman explained to Brown that federal law prohibits making public information that could be used to identify people receiving assistance through the housing program. Feldman said that, in his legal opinion, revealing the names of the owners of the apartments would violate federal law. Brown said that she was concerned that their might be a “conflict of interest” with apartment owners that needed to be investigated, claiming that as the reason for her tag.

Brown eventually removed her tag, rather than have it overturned. All four ordinances providing funding passed with only Brown voting “nay.”

—  admin

Twelfth Night celebration is in the pink

In the liturgical calendar of the Christian church twelfth night is the last day of the Christmas season. (Remember the 12 days of Christmas? They start on December 24 and end December 5) Twelfth night also kicks off the carnival season that culminates in the celebration of Mardi Gras. The Krewe of Olympus, Houston’s own predominately gay Mardi Gras Krewe, welcomes the season in style with “Pretty in Pink:” a twelfth night fundraiser benefiting the Montrose Counseling Center. The festivities are Saturday night, January 7 (’cause who wants to party on a Thursday?) starting at 7 pm at the Counseling Center (401 Branard) and include traditional king cake as well as an open bar, hors d’oevres and a Mardi Gras mask auction. In keeping with the theme guests are invited to wear their best outfits in shades of pink (be it blush or bashful).

The Krewe of Olympus started in New Orleans in 1970 before moving to Houston. According to their website:

We are one of the largest predominately gay Krewes in the United States, although our membership is open to all. Our principal aims are to present theatrical and educational events that perpetuate and continue Mardi Gras traditions and to raise money for community charities. Since moving to Texas, we’ve donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Houston and Dallas Charitable Organizations. We are a 501(c)(3) non profit organization.

Tickets for the event are $35 and are available at the door.

—  admin

FEEBACK: Thanks!

Thanks!

We want to extend a very special “thank you” to all the merchants who donated to the Round Up Saloon’s annual Easter Basket Auction this year. And thanks as well go to the generous buyers who showed up to bid on and purchase the baskets.

We especially thank our staff that worked so hard to get the baskets decorated, cataloged and presented for sale. Louis Ramos coordinated the entire event, and our auctioneer, R.D., has donated his time now for 15 years to doing our auctions.

And to all the Resource Center Dallas staff, TGRA members, The Dallas Tap Dazzlers, Michael Doughman and all our donors, buyers and entertainers: THANK YOU!

We are proud to announce that $14,400 was donated to The Nutrition Center and TGRA as a result of the Easter Basket Auction. The economy and the crowds are returning, and this charitable event is back on the way to recovery following a couple of pretty lean years.

Again, thank you to everyone.

Gary Miller,
Round-Up Saloon

—  John Wright

Human Rights Campaign, Courage Campaign Call on IRS to Investigate National Organization for Marriage’s Charitable Arm

IRS complaint demonstrates that Ruth Institute, a project of the NOM Education Fund, has flagrantly violated federal tax law by intervening in political campaigns

The Human Rights Campaign and the Courage Campaign, a 700,000-member online activist network, announced they are filing a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service asking it to immediately investigate the Ruth Institute, part of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) Education Fund. The complaint, found here, requests the IRS revoke the Ruth Institute’s tax-exempt status and seek an injunction to prevent future violations by either the Ruth Institute or the NOM Education Fund.

The complaint makes clear the Ruth Institute “has repeatedly and flagrantly violated the political campaign activity prohibition of section 501(c) (3) by intervening and participating in multiple candidate campaigns.  In the past year Ruth Institute resources have illegally been used to advocate for a U.S. Senate candidate as well as local and statewide judicial candidates.” HRC and the Courage Campaign cite the repeated involvement of the Ruth Institute in Carly Fiorina’s Senate race and in judicial elections in California and Iowa as clear violations of federal law.

“The evidence that the Ruth Institute and the NOM Education Fund repeatedly stepped over the line into illegal activity is indisputable,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Even fringe groups like NOM, its associates, and its affiliate groups must abide by federal law. Is the Ruth Institute nothing more than a front and funnel for NOM’s political activities? We trust the IRS can unveil the truth.”

“Time and again, NOM has shown itself as a radical extremist group bent on attacking families and undermining election laws,” said Courage Campaign Chairman and Founder Rick Jacobs.  “By openly flouting IRS regulations governing charities, NOM is effectively forcing taxpayers to subsidize its political activities. This is not just the height of arrogance, it’s against the law.”

Pursuant to the federal tax code, as a charitable organization, the Ruth Institute may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.  Violation of this prohibition can result in stiff penalties against the organization and its officials as well as potential revocation of its tax exempt status by IRS.

The Ruth Institute and Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, in her capacity as president of The Ruth Institute, have participated in activities advocating the election of Carly Fiorina to the United States Senate in coordination with NOM, which has already spent close to 0,000 on the race through multiple independent expenditures.  Evidence of the Ruth’s Institute’s participation in these activities includes:

  • A NOM-issued press release titled “National Organization for Marriage and Ruth Institute Join Bus Tour Supporting Carly Fiorina in California.”  The September 28th release stated that “Brian Brown, president of NOM, and Jennifer Roback Morse, president of The Ruth Institute, a project of NOM’s Marriage Education Fund, will both be supporting the “Vota Tus Valores” bus tour as it makes its way around California” and that Morse would appear at a San Diego campaign event on October 4. (NOM has since removed their press release from its web site. It can be found here.)
  • Videotape of the October 4th appearance by Morse at the campaign event for Fiorina. Speaking in front of a bus emblazoned with “Vota Fiorina,” Morse said, “We’re the Ruth Institute … if you go and look at ruthinstitute.org, you’ll find out all about us… We’re here, and we’re here to serve, we’re here to serve the whole body of Christ… That’s what we’re here for, and we’re very proud to be part of this electoral effort (4:50 into the videotape).”
  • A Ruth Institute podcast containing Morse’s speech on behalf of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Values, described on the Ruth Institute website as “an independent expenditure group supporting Carly Fiorina’s bid for California Senator.” (This, too, has been scrubbed. It can be found here.)
  • Ruth Institute website content promoting Fiorina’s candidacy and Morse’s involvement in the campaign effort.

The Ruth Institute has also intervened in campaigns to elect San Diego County judges as part of a candidate slate supported by an organization called Better Courts Now.  Better Courts Now endorsed a slate of four judicial candidates in the California primary election on June 8, 2010. The evidence includes Ruth Institute website content and video endorsing Better Courts Now and encouraging readers to support its candidate slate.

In Iowa, three of the justices of the state Supreme Court face a retention election this November. The Ruth Institute has advocated their recall, which is political intervention in violation of Section 501(c)(3). The Ruth Institute website made the case for “Why the Iowa Judges Have to Go” two days after NOM reported spending 5,000 on independent expenditure television ads calling for the rejection of the justices.

Today’s complaint follows a September 20th Washington Independent story that suggested NOM had funneled millions more in tax-exempt donations from charitable groups into other political campaigns.

NOM is fighting campaign finance laws in a number of states, including New York, Washington, California and Maine, where it remains under investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission for failing to register with the state as a ballot question committee and refusing to disclose the donors to its campaign to overturn Maine’s marriage equality law in 2009.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

NOM Charitable Organization Violates Tax-Exempt Status by Campaigning for Senate Candidate

 

Today Human Rights Campaign and the Courage Campaign called on the National Organization for Marriage, or NOM, to explain why its tax-exempt charitable organization, the Ruth Institute – a project of NOM’s Marriage Education Fund – is violating federal laws by intervening on behalf of a candidate for elected office.

This past Monday, Ruth Institute President Jennifer Roback Morse spoke on behalf of her organization at a campaign stop of the “Vota Tus Valores” bus tour, a NOM-backed independent expenditure in support of California Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina in San Diego.  At the campaign event Morse talked about the role of the Ruth Institute, held up the organization’s signage and closed her remarks by saying, “We’re very glad to be part of this electoral effort.” (Watch video of Morse speaking at event.)

Morse’s campaign appearance followed a NOM-issued press release titled “National Organization for Marriage and Ruth Institute Join Bus Tour Supporting Carly Fiorina in California.” The release states that “Brian Brown, president of NOM, and Jennifer Roback Morse, president of The Ruth Institute, a project of NOM’s Marriage Education Fund, will both be supporting the bus tour as it makes its way around California.” In addition to supporting Fiorina, the NOM charitable group has also illegally participated in a campaign to elect California judges.

Pursuant to the federal tax code, a charitable organization – which is permitted to receive tax deductible contributions – may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.  Violation of this prohibition can result in stiff penalties against the organization and its officials as well as potential revocation of its tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service.  Federal and state election laws also require organizations to disclose their campaign expenditures.

Read more about it at our NOM Exposed website.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright