Saturday, June 28, 2008

Politician Taps Charity's Email List Without Its Permission

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Cobb County Commissioner Joe Lee Thompson sent political emails to the email list of a charity without the charity's permission.  The Friends for the East Cobb Park is a section 501(c)(3) nonprofit formed to support the creation and maintenance of a park in Marietta, Georgia.  According to its website, it has worked closely with Cobb County since essentially its inception in 1998.  This close relationship may have been what led Commissioner Thompson to use the organization's email database, along with legally obtained email addresses belonging to the Police Department and the county, to send a May 12th message seeking re-election support.  The charity's Vice President also designed the Commissioner's website and may have been the avenue for obtaining access to the charity's database.  Commissioner Thompson is facing a challenger in the July 15th Republican primary.

While the article highlights the risk created by this use to the charity's federal tax-exempt status, the apparent one-time nature of the inappropriate use and the statements by the charity that it has taken steps to ensure no such use occurs again suggest it is probably a prime candidate for the warning letters the IRS has been using when it has come across isolated and apparently inadvertent violations of the political campaign intervention prohibition.   Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is the fact that knowledge about the prohibition has now widespread enough that a major regional paper spotted and reported on the apparent violation even though it only involved a relatively small, local charity.


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