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If you ask a top official for the nonprofit group that sponsored Mayor Bob Filner’s trip to Paris in June, the Organization of Iranian-American Communities is a 501c3 tax-exempt organization. Or maybe it’s not.
“I believe it’s a 501c3, but I’m not sure,” Ross Amin, the group’s vice president, said Monday. He said he was “not too familiar” with the organization’s legal status with the IRS.
While Amin is tracking down the answer, let’s review what we know about Filner’s OIAC-sponsored trip.
Last week, Filner released a statement claiming that his trip had been “arranged and managed in accordance with all appropriate policies, procedures and regulations.” The city of San Diego spent more than $21,000 on transportation, hotel accommodations and meals for the mayor’s security detail, while OIAC picked up the mayor’s tab of more than $9,800, according to Filner’s July 25 press release. The region of Nord Pas-de-Calais chipped in $280 for travel to and from Paris for Filner and his detail.
The group’s status is key to whether the administration could face ethics violations. In the July 25 press release, Filner suggested everything was above board.
“Under the California Fair Political Practices Act, OIAC’s payment of the mayor’s expenses are exempt from all gift limits because OIAC is an IRC §501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the expenses were incurred for a legitimate governmental purpose,” according to the press release.
But U-T San Diego and 10 News investigated the 501c3 claim and found no evidence that OIAC or one of its subsidiaries have been granted 501c3 tax exempt status.
Our analysis found that one of the group’s subsidiaries, the Iranian-American Community of Northern California, is a 501c4 organization. It spent $330,000 lobbying the federal government on human rights issues in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, but it is not a tax-exempt charity, according to the IRS.
Under the federal tax code, 501c3 organizations can accept charitable gifts from donors, who can write those contributions off on their tax returns. 501c4 organizations exist primarily to influence public policy (and elections).
In a follow-up email, Amin stated only that OIAC is a nonprofit, referring to his organization’s website. We are waiting for Amin to clarify whether OIAC or one of its subsidiaries paid for Filner’s trip.
Stacey Fulhorst, executive director of the San Diego’s Ethics Commission, confirmed that city and state law provide a gift-limit exemption when the gift is provided by a 501c3 nonprofit and is for a legitimate government purpose. Fulhorst could not comment specifically on Filner’s Paris trip.
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