ACORN-Related Groups Targeted by IRS over 10-Year Period

New Orleans  Hey, every day is important. We’re busy bees, and today we even have a mini-hurricane heading our way within hours, so there’s a long list.

Nonetheless, I don’t like to be one of those “I told you so folks,” especially when what I told you, repeatedly, was about some bad and evil activity by the US Internal Revenue Service, but, I have to do what I have to do, so I guess I have to remind y’all that, I told you so.

The Obama era controversy with the IRS was inspired by conservative whining that they were being discriminated against when Tea Party groups, trying to change spots, and in some cases were being rejected in their applications for tax exempt status which requires organizations to be nonpartisan. Heads rolled, conspiracies were claimed, and so on and so on. I pointed out repeatedly during those times what was often buried in most of the reports that indicated that most of the Tea Party groups actually succeeded in being awarded tax exempt status by the IRS, but that the IRS was scrutinizing progressive groups, including former ACORN state organizations in the process of reorganization, even more severely.

In an exhaustive report the Inspector General of the Treasury Department has now conclusively revealed that in the same way the tax exempt division searched for key words on the right to give extra attention, they did the same on the left, by pulling out applications including the words “progressive,” “green,” and of course, “ACORN” or anything like it.

I knew firsthand this was the problem from frequent conversations with Craig Robbins of Action United, formerly Pennsylvania ACORN. In 2010 they had applied for a tax exemption from the IRS on the recommendation of lawyers. ACORN had been a plain vanilla nonprofit under the state laws of Arkansas and never a 501c3 tax exempt organization as classified by the IRS, but in the wake of attack from conservatives and others, lawyers had gained the upper hand in many debates over basic organizing fundamentals, so in an excess of caution to try to survive, many, if not most, of the former ACORN affiliates were applying for tax exemption in order to satisfy potential funders. Some like the organization in Pennsylvania were caught in this wave of IRS prejudice, and unlike the Tea Party whiners, it was not a matter of delays and eventually success, but outright rejection as Craig’s organization experienced.

This is the IRS friends. No apologies will be forthcoming and none are expected.

And, this is America in 2017, so even though more progressive groups were targeted, the conservatives in Congress who have been eating lunch for a long time on their various anti-tax, IRS conspiracies are also still beating the drum even in the wake of this decisive, concluding report on the IRS mischief in the tax exempt division.

I could have also told you to expect that.


Political Empowerment and Mobilization Needs to be the Critical Metric for Funders

New Orleans  I ’d like to just say it is a coincidence, but sometimes it just seems like fate. One day we write about how funders are explicitly and implicitly leading movements, campaigns, organizers, and organizations down blind alleys into box canyons for their own convenience without concern for the outcomes and happily doing so based on false metrics, and the next day there is a hallelujah chorus echoing the same argument, even more powerfully, on the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for Dawn, the Pakistani newspaper, and penned the piece entitled, “You Can’t ‘Empower’ Us with Chickens” pointedly discussing the misdirected efforts focusing on women, but she could as easily have been addressing the poor, migrants, and so many others with the same force. She names names taking down Melinda Gates argument that sending a chicken can empower women, Heifer International’s “enterpriser basket” of rabbits, fish, and silkworms, and India Partners plea for $100 for a sewing machine. Her point is the obvious one: economics can NOT be equated with empowerment.

Zakaria correctly argues that all of this was a high-jacking. Feminists of the 1980s from the Global South had introduced the priority of empowerment to stop gender subordination and “other oppressive structures” and developing “political mobilization.” The NGO and donor development community has sweated empowerment down to “technical programming” to “improve education and health.” The end result: “This depoliticized ‘empowerment’ serves everyone except the women it is supposed to help.” Amen. In fact the OCED issued its report today as well indicating that the same situation is true of course among rich countries as well, noting that there has been “no progress” in reducing the gap of income and political power between men and women in the last five years.

In a devastatingly accurate critique of the fake metrics of recipient organizations that includes touting enrollment in schools without revealing graduation rates along with the lack of sustainable income in the families getting the chickens and other animal husbandry “gift,” Zakaria states the verdict plainly:

…there is a skirting of the truth that without political change, the structures that discriminate against women can’t be dismantled and any advances they do make will be unsustainable. Numbers never lie, but they do omit.”

She goes further, and rightly so, arguing about the ludicrous exercise of offering classes to ex-fighters of the Sri Lanka Liberation Tigers in cake decorating, sewing, and hairstyling. Personally, i’ll bet there were some women walking out of those classes, saying “get me a gun!” Zakaria argues, “It’s time for a change to the ‘empowerment’ conversation. Development organizations’ programs must be evaluated on the basis of whether they enable women to increase their potential for political mobilization….” Furthermore she correctly states that “The idea that development goals and agendas should be apolitical must be discarded.”

Now add to all of her references to women, low-and-moderate income families, minorities, immigrants, migrants, and millions upon millions of the powerless, and substitute the United States and other countries for the global inflection and donors, foundations, and the rich for development groups, and her argument holds true across the board.