Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cause for "Concern"

 ‘Watching. Listening. Acting”.  This was the credo of local citizen activist group Lower Providence Concerned Citizens Association (LPCCA), whose logo was a wise old owl. Over the past few years, if you’ve donated money to or been a member of LPCCA, you might want to ask if you knew who you were dealing with and what  really happened to your money, particularly if you thought it was tax deductible.
The words they selected to represent themselves apparently don’t include ‘complying’, because according to the federal government, LPCCA is an IRS scofflaw, appears to have inappropriately solicited funds, and possibly misappropriated the donated money they received. This supposedly nonpartisan group represented to donors that they held status as a 501(c)3 charitable organization.

Created back in 1981 (according to the PA Secretary of State's office) by (primarily) former longtime Township supervisor Rick Brown to fight Moyer’s Landfill, this organization lay dormant for a long time until revived in recent years just in the nick of time to fight the American Revolution Center (ARC) project and run it out of town. Their more recent members have come from the anti-ARC ranks (including current supervisor Colleen Eckman, a former vice president of the group), Planning Commission member Harold “Ted” Baird, who, courtesy of Brown has helped LPT rack up thousands in legal fees fighting a local business on his behalf and whom I've written about several times previously on this blog;  virtually all of the current Zoning Hearing Board members, and Arcola residents Cathy Beyer and Mary Kaczor (whom I've also written about previously), who have been embroiled in battle – at considerable Township expense - with the 5 other member municipalities of our regional sewer authority.

In addition to collecting membership fees, LPCCA held several functions in recent years to raise funds to support its aims (mostly, fighting the ARC, the interceptor project, and any other projects (and people) Brown and his minions didn’t approve of.

The candidate for supervisor in last year’s BOS race that Brown supported – Democrat Jim Donohue - stated in campaign materials and online that he was LPCCA’s  latest secretary, having assumed that role not long before he threw his hat in the ring for the 2013 election. Other than that, the members of their executive board were not widely known.
In 2011, LPCCA facilitated and hosted an allegedly nonbiased candidate forum in that year’s supervisors’ race -- in which I (the chair of the ZHB during the ARC hearings) was a candidate and Brown’s Public Enemy #1 – the first and only such candidate debate they ever held. They didn't bother to hold one last year.
Curious about this group after they inserted themselves into my race and their members were publicly supporting my opponent, I started to look into them a couple of years ago and learned that not only had they not obtained a 501c3 determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service, as they’d been representing, but according to IRS officials, they had never even applied during their entire 30+ year existence.

Over the course of a year, I checked the IRS' online so-called 'cumulative list' and called them three different times, thinking that maybe it was (very belatedly) in the works and delayed during the IRS’s Tea Party targeting scandal, or that I’d happened to get an IRS agent on the phone who didn’t know what he or she was doing and provided incorrect information. Each of the three times the agent on the other end of the phone gave me the same information. Each time I checked online, there was no charitable organization listing with the IRS for LPCCA. I guess this may explain why they had never filed annual 990 reports and why there was no official record as to whom their executive board officers were or how much money they had raised.  
Any citizen has the right to request a copy of a charity’s IRS determination status letter in order to determine their legitimacy, and since the IRS did not have it, I was directed to try to obtain directly from LPCCA whatever documentation they had that they felt supported their claim to 501(c)3 status. I asked a friend to write both an email and a formal letter to LPCCA to request their determination letter (since I presumed they wouldn’t respond if it was me asking for it); no response to her inquiries were ever received. They never even acknowledged receipt of her correspondence.
The IRS indicated it would look into this group and take whatever action they felt necessary if they determined LPCCA had falsely represented their status to potential and actual donors.  The IRS itself will not disclose whether they investigated and if so, what the outcome of that investigation was. FOIA laws, they claim, preclude that.
However, the group is no more. Last fall I learned from a local attorney that on October 21, 2013 the officers of LPCCA had abruptly met and voted to disband LPCCA. Could it have been because the IRS was breathing down their necks?  Since they never filed anything with the government and other than Baird, never put their officers’ names and titles on their website, we can only know who was involved from materials the group themselves put out and quotes attributed to them in the press (such as here and here).
If you contributed funds to LPCCA that you thought were tax deductible, you might want to check with your accountant before the IRS catches up with you.  Otherwise, since I also discovered another local charitable entity with 'Lower Providence' in its name who has had their 501(c)3 status revoked for non-filing of annual reports, let the donor beware.


No comments: