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web posted June 10, 2002

PETA could lose nonprofit status

An animal-rights group should lose its tax-exempt status because it gave $1,500 to a group the FBI lists as "terrorist," say two pro-business groups on the other side of the ongoing debate on animal treatment.

An expert in tax law agrees that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals might have jeopardized its crucial status as a nonprofit charity.

A form PETA filed with the Internal Revenue Service shows it gave $1,500 to the North American Earth Liberation Front last April "to support program activities." PETA offered several different explanations for the payment.

The Center for Consumer Freedom, a coalition of restaurants, and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, a group composed of mostly business and property owners, say the donation should cost PETA its nonprofit status.

"The implication is PETA is funding someone who (wants to) overthrow the government of the United States," said Ron Arnold, Free Enterprise center executive vice president.

PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said groups that don't agree with its mission are looking for reasons to hurt them. PETA's attorney Jeffrey Kerr called it a "smear campaign."

"This is a straw man," Newkirk said. "They're trying to create dirt where no dirt exists."

The IRS reviewed PETA's records several years ago, "took us apart seam by seam," and came up with nothing, she added.

The FBI has labeled ELF and its ally Animal Liberation Front as terrorist organizations. It estimates the two groups have committed more than 600 criminal acts since 1996, primarily arson, causing at least $43million in damage.

ELF and ALF attacks on local universities and businesses, such as Washington State University in Pullman and Jefferson Poplar Farms in Oregon, have raised concern about eco-terrorism threats in the area.

U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt of Spokane has proposed tougher penalties for people convicted of "agro-terrorism."

The current ELF spokesman, Leslie James Pickering, did not respond to requests for a comment for this story.

Consumer Freedom's executive director, Richard Berman, complained about PETA's $1,500 donation early this year at a congressional hearing on eco-terrorism where Nethercutt's bill was discussed.

Patti Strand, president of the National Animal Interest Alliance in Portland, a nonprofit animal-welfare organization, contends the payment is part of a well-orchestrated effort.

"This is a very shrewd, business-savvy organization. Nothing they do is spontaneous," she said.

The conflict represents the different positions in the debate between animal-rights and animal-welfare advocates. Animal-rights groups like PETA believe animals shouldn't be used for research, food, products or entertainment. Animal-welfare groups like the alliance believe it's OK to use animals as long as they're treated humanely and thinks animal-rights groups exaggerate abuse claims to increase fund raising and membership.

Newkirk said animal-welfare groups don't want animal-rights groups to get their message out: "They don't want people to know what goes into their meat," she said.

Nonprofits, such as PETA, the alliance and the two pro-business centers, are all funded by private donations and permitted to give to other charitable organizations. The recipient doesn't have to be a nonprofit group but the money must go to charitable purposes. Federal law also prohibits nonprofits from financially supporting terrorism.

In a 12-page letter to the IRS in March, Arnold listed examples of PETA activities he said border on inappropriate behavior.

He requested a thorough examination of PETA's history, including paying legal fees for ALF and PETA members charged with misdemeanors and felonies. He also cited statements by Newkirk and Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vegan campaign coordinator, that Arnold believes encourage civil disobedience or more extreme tactics.

Newkirk said the group is just exercising its First Amendment rights. Strand said the group uses freedom of speech "as sword and shield."

Kerr, PETA's lawyer, said the group refuses to "condone or condemn actions attributed to ELF. (Actions) have occurred without any input or endorsement from PETA," he wrote to the House forest health subcommittee after its Feb. 12 hearing on eco-terrorism. Financial support for legal defense does not mean the group condones illegal actions, and to suggest it does is "wrong and inexcusable," he wrote.

Paying for someone's legal assistance is weak grounds to investigate a group's nonprofit status, said John Lawley, an American University law student who has researched PETA's tax-exempt status.

Such donations are a legitimate function of a nonprofit because they fall under social policy, which relieves the government of the obligation to provide defense counsel, he said.

But PETA's $1,500 donation to ELF could be grounds to lose its tax-exempt status, he said.

"Eco-terrorism clearly violates public policy," Lawley wrote in a recent study. "Activities employed by eco-terror groups call for the violent destruction of property and the express goal of inflicting economic damage on their perceived foes."

Kenneth Anderson, an American University College of Law professor who teaches nonprofit taxation, agreed: "Anything PETA does with money has to be a charitable purpose. How can it be a charitable purpose if they're giving it to a terrorist organization?"

The fact that the FBI labels ELF as a terrorist organization should be enough for the FBI to investigate PETA, he said.

In recent months, PETA officials have offered several explanations of the $1,500 check to ELF.

On Feb. 26, Newkirk told ABC News she did not remember the check. On March 4, the Associated Press quoted her as saying it was a request for funds for educational materials. The following day, she was quoted by KOMO-TV in Seattle as saying it was being used for "habitat protection."

Two days later, Lisa Lange, the group's director of policy and communications, said on a FOX News program the money was for a program about vegetarianism. On March 14, Kerr wrote to Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., chairman of the House Forest and Forest Health Subcommittee, that the $1,500 was "to assist (former ELF spokesman Craig) Rosebraugh with legal expenses related to free-speech activities regarding animal protection issues."

Newkirk offered that same explanation in a recent interview with The Spokesman-Review, saying the money assisted Rose-braugh for legal defense when he was subpoenaed to testify before McInnis's subcommittee. Rosebraugh invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 50 times during that appearance.

She believes Rosebraugh is being harassed: "He's not even being charged with anything. This country is supposed to hold free speech sacred and not pursue those that say they're fed up with animal abuse and will pass off information from those that are exposing it."

But IRS records show the check was written in April 2001, 11 months before the hearing was held. The group said the check was "to support program activities," which means the organization could be cited for improper record keeping, Anderson said. PETA used the same description for every expenditure in 2001.

"Not keeping proper records is a killer right there," Anderson said. "Even if they say it's an honest mistake, it was a record-keeping error. If you want the tax exemption, you have to keep proper records."

The IRS does not have to prove PETA gave money for improper purposes on an improper record-keeping charge, he added.

Josh Penry, spokesman for the subcommittee, said PETA's recent answer that the $1,500 was intended for legal defense is "weak."

"You can move money around. ELF could have spent that however they wanted," he said.

Anderson said it's up to the IRS to determine what the penalty is if it revokes PETA's tax-exempt status. But, he said the real question is whether the IRS will investigate an allegation that amounts to such a tiny percent of the group's annual $14 million budget.

"Most large charities wind up making expenditures that after the fact are questionable," Anderson said. "It's very rare for the IRS to revoke the status of an organization for, relatively speaking, minor amounts. It's just crazy."

If the IRS does revoke PETA's tax-exempt status, however, it would have a significant impact on the organization, Anderson said.

"People who donate can't take a tax deduction," he said. "It would make life much tougher for the organization. But it's not the end of the world; we're not talking about people going to jail."

Congress also could pass a new law, he said.

"Congress could say any group that contributes one penny to a terrorist organization listed by the FBI could lose its tax-exempt status," Anderson said.

Nethercutt's proposed legislation would increase penalties and fines for eco-terrorism-related violations. If that bill is passed, he said, the next step could be to look into nonprofit tax law.

"It's unacceptable that any nonprofit in this country would support a self-described group like ELF," he said.

Oregon community challenges feds

Residents of John Day, Oregon are a self-reliant lot. Hard winters and a depressed economy have forged hardscrabble attitudes toward outsiders and "the government."

Grant County voters passed two ballot measures last month reflecting the frustration of residents who feel they no longer control their lives, livelihoods or the land.

By about a 2-to-1 margin, residents approved a measure banning the United Nations in the county and another allowing people to cut trees on federal land, regardless of whether the U.S. Forest Service approves.

"We intend to push the limit, push the envelope on this," said Dave Traylor, a stocky, bearded jack-of-all-trades who helped write the measures.

Home to about 7,500 people, Grant County is a place where cowboy hats, hay farms and horse trailers are ubiquitous, where the high school teams are the "Prospectors," and the two radio stations play Christian or country music.

The county covers an area about the size of Connecticut. More than 60 percent of the land is managed by the federal government. The jobless rate, 13.5 percent, is the second-highest in Oregon.

Many people have seen their logging livelihoods dribble away.

Backers of the two ballot measures blame federal timber policies and environmental restrictions that they say are keeping them off public lands that had given them jobs as loggers, mill workers and ranchers.

Supporters hope to push the Forest Service into allowing more logging. They say millions of board feet of timber could be salvaged by allowing people to cut the big ponderosa pines and firs that are hazards.

"If we could just address salvage on the dead, dying and blowdown, we could provide a lot of trees to the mills," said Traylor.

Dennis Reynolds, who as Grant County judge serves as its chief administrator, said the county government likely will endorse a plan to allow residents to cut dead, dying and wind-damaged trees on federal land.

"The question now is, what is the federal government going to do?" he said. "These people are lashing out in the only way they can. Now we have people willing to go to jail over this issue."

Roger Williams, deputy supervisor of the Malheur National Forest, which manages more than 1 million acres of forested land in the county, hopes to avoid conflict.

"We're looking into what we can do to relieve some of the pressure that led these people to put this measure on the ballot," said Williams.

It is the latest conflict to arise in the West with federal authorities.

In San Bernardino County, California, ranchers chafing at cattle grazing restrictions imposed to protect the threatened desert tortoise were supported recently by Sheriff Gary Penrod, who canceled an agreement that gave Bureau of Land Management officers authority to enforce state laws on federal land.

In the Klamath Basin, on the Oregon-California line, farmers and others last year had tense confrontations with the Bureau of Reclamation over its decision to give irrigation water to endangered fish rather than farmers.

Also last year, residents in northeast Nevada defied the Forest Service by attempting to rebuild a washed-out stretch of road in Elko County, work the Forest Service said would threaten the bull trout. The confrontation lasted months.

The second measure that passed in Grant County says the United Nations wants to take away people's guns, seize private property, control the education of children and establish "one world religion-Pantheism (and) world taxation."

Stacie Holmstrom, 35, a lifelong John Day resident, said the measure is too radical.

"I thought that was a real extreme idea," she said. "Grant County sometimes has that stigma anyway -- that we're 'out there' -- and this is just going to add to that."

But others in the county say they believe the allegations made by the measure. Road signs proclaiming Grant County a "UN-free zone" are going up.

"The U.N. scares me. If anything ever got bad, we could have foreigners here controlling us," said John Day painter and muralist Patricia Ross, 55.

Voters in La Terkin, Utah, next year will see a similar anti-U.N. measure on the ballot. An anti-U.N. ordinance was approved in July but repealed by a new Town Council. Organizers are hoping to revive the measure on the 2003 ballot.

William Luers, a former U.S. ambassador and now president of the United Nations Association of the USA, said the anti-U.N. sentiment is absurd.

"The United Nations absolutely has no capacity, resources or forces to take over anything in the world," Luers said.

Bud Trowbridge, whose grandfather settled in John Day in 1862, said he's ready to use force to protect his property from the United Nations.

"We're trying to avoid a fight. But we still got our guns," he said.

ABC bleeps 'Jesus' out of broadcast

ABC says it edited the word "Jesus" out of a recent broadcast so viewers wouldn't be offended. For many, it had the opposite effect.

The bleeped Jesus on "The View" has drawn the ire of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, some conservative media watchdogs and even the women whose on-air conversation was altered.

"It is political correctness run amok," said Elizabeth Swasey, spokeswoman for the Media Research Center.

On the May 23 edition of "The View," Meredith Vieira noted that the daily weigh-ins of her dieting co-host, Joy Behar, had ended.

"Yes, and thank you, thank you, Jesus, is all I have to say," Behar replied.

Her words were aired live in much of the country, but when ABC broadcast a taped version of the show on the West Coast, "Jesus" was edited out.

ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover said the use ran afoul of a pretty clear standard. The network has no problem with Jesus Christ's name if it is used in a "prayerful and respectful manner," she said. (ABC's Peter Jennings anchored a highly rated news special, "The Search For Jesus," in July 2000.)

But ABC does not allow Jesus' name to be used in an exclamation.

"Under the circumstances, we were concerned it would be offensive to our audience," Hoover said.

The incident comes at a time broadcasters in general are pushing the boundaries of language and content. Expletives rarely allowed on the networks were used this year, for instance, on a May "ER" episode on NBC and on CBS' March special using video from inside the World Trade Center.

ABC's broadcast of a racy Victoria's Secret fashion special in November prompted complaints to the Federal Communications Commission, which ruled that it did not violate indecency regulations.

Five days after the Behar incident, hosts of "The View" noted they had received about 100 letters of complaint.

"It was stupid to beep that," co-host Star Jones said. "They let us say all kinds of things on TV, but they beep Jesus? That makes no sense."

Falwell, in a newspaper column, said he believed ABC's action was wrong. What makes it worse, he said, is that many cable television networks are habitually blasphemous.

"Conservative Catholics and evangelical Christians are expected to accept this double standard and keep our mouths shut," he said.

CNN's Dobbs to abandon terror phrase

The war on terror may be ending — at least on one CNN program.

Lou Dobbs, host of the nightly CNN business show "Moneyline," said on the air last week that he is abandoning the phrase "war on terror" in favor of the more specific "war on Islamists."

He said the enemy is not terror, but radical Islamists who argue that non-believers should be killed.

"This is not a war against Muslims or Islam or Islamics," Dobbs said. "It is a war against Islamists and all who support them, and if ever there were a time for clarity, it is now. We hope this new policy is a step in the right direction."

It was unclear Thursday whether Dobbs was permanently abandoning "war on terror" as a phrase or if he was simply, as a spokeswoman suggested, starting a dialogue with viewers.

During the other 23 hours of CNN's news day, the network is sticking with the "war on terror."

Dobbs' commentary "is perfectly appropriate," CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson said.

"His viewers expect his insight and commentary, and like all of his commentary, it doesn't necessarily represent the views of the network," Robinson said.

The opinionated anchor attracted attention earlier this spring with a vigorous defense of auditors Arthur Andersen during the Enron scandal. Dobbs criticized the Justice Department for indicting the auditors, while acknowledging past business relationships with Andersen.

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