POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 18, 2010
The president of Hawaii Family Forum says the Christian nonprofit will focus more on charitable work and less on lobbying in an effort to stay within federal guidelines for tax-exempt charities.
The forum has helped lead the fight against civil unions, mobilizing its members to lobby legislators, tracking bills and organizing rallies at the Capitol. On its 2009 tax return filed this week, the normally tax-exempt nonprofit paid $20,741 in taxes for "excessive lobbying," as reported in yesterday's Star-Advertiser.
Under IRS regulations, Hawaii Family Forum may use no more than 20 percent of its annual expenditures for lobbying. But last year the nonprofit exceeded that limit, with well more than half of its spending going toward lobbying. It reported spending $125,695 on lobbying and $87,955 on other activities.
The nonprofit was just as active at the Legislature this year. Asked whether his organization might also face taxes on its 2010 return for excessive lobbying, President Francis Oda said yesterday, "I hope not. I don't know. The executive director will monitor it. We will definitely be addressing that issue."
The civil unions bill, House Bill 444, was introduced last year, and passed on the last day of the 2010 legislative session. It would have given same-sex couples the rights and benefits of marriage but was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle.
"Many of our resources were focused on that specific bill," Oda said. "In 2008 and prior to that time, I would say the majority of resources went to programs."
Oda added: "Hawaii Family Forum was not set up to lobby. Before this whole same-sex marriage thing, our primary focus was on the adoption of children out of the Family Court system. We do get involved in issues, but our primary focus is to support families."
James Hochberg, attorney for the Forum, said it can be difficult for a nonprofit to gauge whether its lobbying is within federal limits as the year progresses. "It's impossible to know that until you get to the end of the year and you look backward," he said. "It's completely in hindsight."
He added that donors may feel the price paid for lobbying was worth it.
"I don't imagine that the contributors to Hawaii Family Forum over the last two years are upset that $20,000 was paid in taxes because of all of the effort that was brought," Hochberg said. "I bet they're satisfied with the results of the work."
If a charity exceeds lobbying limits repeatedly, the IRS can revoke its tax-exempt status. That valuable status enables charities to accept tax-deductible contributions and frees them from paying income tax.