Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Indiana Equality Responds To Critics

Indiana Equality has responded to recent criticism directed at it within the GLBT community “to clear up some of the misunderstandings and inaccurate statements that [we]re circulating [on the list serve]” in an e-mail communication entitled “Clearing Up Some Misunderstanding.” The response, penned by the organization’s officers, follows some very pointed criticisms from various members of the community over the past several weeks as to the organizational and operational effectiveness of the organization.

IE represents a coalition of GLBT organizations, which is “committed to full equality for all Indiana residents regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” In the past, the organization has been criticized for lacking a legally organized status. The e-mail clarifies that IE is now incorporated as a not-for-profit in the state of Indiana. According to records on file with the Secretary of State’s office, IE became recognized as a non-profit domestic corporation on July 19, 2005 with a business address listed at 2050 E. 55th Place, Indianapolis, IN 46220. It is not, however, recognized as a 501(c)(3) organization by the IRS. Its website clearly denotes that “contributions or gifts to Indiana Equality are not tax deductible as charitable contributions.”

According to IE, Indiana Equality, Inc. will be the “primary arm of IE” and will engage in lobbying and continuing to strengthen its statewide grassroots network. IE says, “Prior to incorporation we operated as a coalition under standard coalition guidelines. This coalition of other organizations pooled resources toward a common goal. These types of organizations operate all the time in Indiana and other states. It is common for groups to use this method to give themselves time to determine what kind of status under which they want to file.”

Records on file with the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission show that IE registered in 2005 as an employer lobbyist with Kathy Sarris listed as the principle contact, and Mark St. John and John Joanette of Lambda Consulting were listed as the organization’s compensated lobbyists. IE listed $12,600 for lobbying expenditures in the form of compensation it paid to St. John and Joanette for lobbying according to a report signed by Kathy Sarris on July 12, 2005. The report was due on May 31, 2005 according to the statutory deadline for filing activity reports. Reports filed with the Commission after the deadline are subject to a penalty of $10 per day up to $100. In 2004, IE reported lobbyist expenditures of $9,300 for paid compensation.

The publicly available data on Indiana lobbyists suggest that IE is not lobbying the legislature during the 2006 legislative session. A list of registered employer lobbyists for 2006 provided by the Commission shows no registration for IE. A similar list of compensated lobbyists for 2006 provided by the Commission shows no registration for either St. John or Joanette. A threshold expenditure of $500 for lobbying must be met before an entity or person is subject to the registration and reporting requirements under Indiana’s Lobby Law. The group did, however, organize an “Our Families Count” rally last week at the State House where up to 300 members of the GLBT community gathered to protest the recent spate of anti-gay legislation introduced in the General Assembly.

The Lobby Registration Commission Audit List as of February 5, 2006, indicates that it has audits open for the 2004 reporting period for Indiana Equality and its compensated lobbyists, St. John and Joanette. This does not infer any wrongdoing on the part of IE or its lobbyists. The Commission staff randomly audits compensated and employer lobbyists each year. After the staff is satisfied that the registered lobbyist is complying with the law's reporting requirement, it will issue the audited person or entity an audit compliance letter.

IE’s e-mail to the community notes that it has also formed Indiana Equality Education Fund to be used for GLBT education matters. Donations to this entity are tax-deductible according to IE. According to records on file with the Secretary of State’s office, this entity became a non-profit domestic corporation on October 3, 2005. IE also intends to establish a political action committee (PAC) which will be “engaged should it be necessary to fight a ballot initiative with the marriage amendment.”

In response to charges it was not opening its finances up to the community, the group said, “IE previously posted an annual report that covered both program and financial information. In 2004, we posted several legislative reports and financials were made available to interested parties. These reports comply with both State and Federal regulations. They have been posted on our website and sent to a number of publications. The 2005 report will be posted in March - a 90-day period to close out the previous year meets standard guidelines.”

The organization’s site does provide a financial report for 2003 but it does not provide a report for 2004. It shows income in 2003 of $34,335.00 and expenditures of $33,734.53. Those expenditures are broken down as follows:

  1. Public policy advocacy, grassroots organizing activities $27,329.77

  2. Materials development and public relations activities $3,659.03

  3. Fundraising and development $2,588.73

  4. Miscellaneous $157.00

In response to criticism that it is not technologically savvy in its grassroots efforts, the group had the following to say:

IE continues to expand its technical capabilities. We are using a state of the art software suite for messaging, advocacy, and fundraising. We also have commissioned a new website that will debut very soon. While we agree that more time and research is needed with regard to how the web impacts campaigns and public opinion, data that is currently available tells us that the most successful campaigns incorporate some technology but the majority of the efforts, in fact, go toward the more traditional methods. (Some of this has to do with the fact that the majority of voters are above the age of 45 and much of modern technology is lost upon them.)
In our meetings with the folks who ran the ballot referendum campaigns in Michigan, Kentucky, and Ohio. We were told that they wished they had had more time and money to run a more traditional campaign.

The group reports that it “will continue to send volunteers to ACLU ballot training and national power summits so that we can learn from those states that been though similar struggles.” It continued, “We also will be sending volunteers to Wisconsin to help them win their ballot referendum in November, which will give them invaluable experience as we potentially face our own referendum. We encourage everyone to help them in this effort because, in the long run, it will help Indiana.”

IE reports that it will be aiding other communities around the state in adopting non-discrimination ordinances similar to the HRO adopted by Indianapolis last year through the efforts of IE and other GLBT organizations. IE said, “The demands put upon IE over the past year by the Indianapolis area have been tremendous. We welcome that challenge and we are eager to continue to engage and help the LGBT community. Other communities are gearing up to pass HROs and we need to be there for them as well. Progress in any Hoosier community is progress towards the goal of equality. We ask everyone to join us as we move forward."

The IE officers listed on the e-mail communication are: Kathy Sarris, President, John Clower, Chairman, Jeff Sumner, Vice-Chairman, Bruce Parker, Secretary, Dan Funk, Treasurer and Jerame Davis, Communications.

IE’s response to its critics is welcome and does answer questions some in the community have raised. But it is also likely to raise more questions than it answers. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a meaningful dialogue with the GLBT community which will allow the organization to gain the full confidence it needs to be successful in its endeavors.

In the interest of disclosure, Advance Indiana editor Gary R. Welsh currently serves as a Region 8 IE Steering Committee member. He has both contributed to IE in the past and has solicited contributions on its behalf in connection with the passage of Indianapolis’ HRO. He does not, however, hold any official or unofficial position with the statewide IE organization.


Anonymous said...

The immediate questions I have are:

They don't have a lobbyist for 2006?!?? Do they have to have a registered lobbyist to have the rally in the statehouse?

They're spending as much as they take in? On what?

Don't they have to keep the money separate now for depending on whether it goes to the lobbyist or the "education" arm? I haven't seen anything indicating that on their recent appeals for donations.

Gary R. Welsh said...

If you spend more than $500 to influence legislative action by lobbying lawmakers, you are required to register and report. According to the public record on the Commission's website, IE is not registered for 2006. The education fund is a totally separate entity with a different name. It is a 501(c)(3), whereas IE is not. I have not personally seen any appeal for the education fund yet; the focus has been on the main IE organization

Anonymous said...

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