Political Charity Outside the Lines, Part 6

A few weeks before the 2012 election, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a story about the increasing political clout of the state’s growing Somali-American community.[1]  The paper reported that,

Somalis are becoming a political force in Minnesota.  They are registering to vote, volunteering for campaigns, running for office and even forming a basic building block in U.S. politics–their own political action committee.


The Star Tribune included a quote from the state Republican Party chair on the party’s efforts to woo the estimated 70,000 Somalis in Minnesota.  The paper also included this quote from the state Democrat Party chair,

“I’ve been really amazed at what’s happened,” said Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin. “It would be a real danger for political parties to ignore this newfound muscle.”

The Star Tribune story also includes a quote from the Executive Director of the Somali Action Alliance (SAA).  Readers may recall that this was the group featured in Part 3 of this series.  Up until July 11, 2012, the Somali Action Alliance had a political action committee.

On July 13, 2012, the New Americans Political Action Committee was formed, expanding from the Somali base to include Ethiopians and other east-African immigrants.  According to its 2012 Year-End Report, filed with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, New Americans raised a little over $6,000 in those last months of 2012, including $2,000 in cash provided by the progressive political non-profit TakeAction Minnesota’s PAC, donated on Halloween 2012.

On July 9, 2012, the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office records that a new non-profit corporation called New Americans was formed, using the same address as the New Americans PAC.  The business is listed as active and in good standing.

Its website,  http://www.newamericanspac.org, exists, but is currently not displaying any content.  Cached copies of the site indicate that the group planned to hold a number of events in late summer and fall of 2012.  An August 13, 2012 YouTube video,[2] documents the group’s kick-off event.  Beginning at the 33:22 mark of the video, a series of Democrat officeholders and candidates appear, asking the audience members for their support in the upcoming election.

Back in 2010, far from ignoring “this newfound muscle,” current Democrat party chair Ken Martin had been actively developing it in his previous job as Executive Director of the progressive political non-profit WIN Minnesota.

As I documented in Part 3 of this series, in 2010 the Somali Action Alliance’s 527 Political Fund spent $44,575 in support of Democrat Mark Dayton’s bid for governor of Minnesota.  All of its spending came in the form of in-kind contributions from the Somali Action Alliance’s 501(c)(4) tax-exempt social welfare non-profit arm.  According to a January 28, 2011 certification from the group, all of that money was provided by WIN Minnesota’s 501(c)(4) tax-exempt entity.

The IRS Form 990 filed by WIN Minnesota’s 501(c)(4) entity for 2010 indicates that the total grant to the Somali Action Alliance’s non-profit was $54,000.[3]

As we saw from the Somali Action Alliance’s 2010 IRS Form 990-EZ, the total revenue for the group was $77,501.  So the $54,000 grant from WIN Minnesota represented 69.7 percent of SAA’s total revenue.  The portion of the WIN grant spent on the SAA Political Fund represented 82.5 percent of the grant and 57.7 percent of SAA’s total revenue.

On SAA’s IRS Form 990-EZ Federal income tax return for 2010, the group lists the following amount under Part V, Line 37a (“amount of political expenditures, direct or indirect”):  $0.00.

So where does that leave us?  If I were a real reporter, these are the questions I would have:

  • What did Ken Martin know, and when did he know it?
  • What do the minutes of SAA’s board meetings reflect regarding this set of transactions?
  • What do the minutes of WIN’s board meetings reflect regarding this set of transactions?
  • Did Ken Martin and/or WIN understand that their grant to SAA provided the bulk of SAA’s financial resources for the year?
  • Did Ken Martin and/or WIN understand that the majority of their grant dollars would be used for political activity by SAA?
  • Did Ken Martin and/or WIN understand that this set of transactions could jeopardize SAA’s tax-exempt status?
  • Who or what was WIN’s source for the $54,000 grant to SAA?
  • Why is SAA’s donation to its 527 Political Fund not disclosed on the 501(c)(4)’s 2010 tax return?
  • Did SAA violate IRS regulations on the political activities of tax-exempt organizations?
  • If so, did WIN Minnesota assist SAA in violating IRS regulations?

[1] Shah, Allie.  “Somali-Americans begin making mark on local politics.”  Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 13, 2012.  See  http://www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/173985311.html .

[2] Watch  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEsvluHB73Q

[3] See WIN’s IRS Form 990, Schedule 1, Part II, Section 1, Line 8.

Cross-posted at Bill Glahn – comments welcome.