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FMB Tax Exempt Non-Profits

February 6, 2019
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

To the editor:

The Town of Fort Myers Beach (FMB) has many great non-profit organizations that have been granted under the 501(c)(3) Internal Revenue Code. They include Friends of the Arts, Friends of the Library, Friends of Matanzas Pass, Friends of the Mound House, Friends of Lovers Key, and many others. 501(c)(3)'s operate exclusively for charitable or educational purposes. Their political activities are strictly limited and they cannot directly engage in elections. Contributions to these non-profit organizations are tax deductible and donors must be disclosed.

Estero Island Taxpayers Association, Inc (EITA-INC), is a non-profit Political Committee formed as a 501(c)(4) organization. 501(c)(4)'s are exempt from federal taxation, contributions are not tax deductible and donors are not disclosed. 501(c)(4)'s can advocate for legislation and lobby.

Shortly after EITA-INC incorporated, an Estero Island Taxpayers Association, PAC (EITA-PAC) was formed, which is a Political Action Committee. It has different legal and reporting requirements from EITA-INC. A PAC may be required to disclose donors.

EITA-PAC recently changed its name to Friends of Fort Myers Beach, PAC (FFMB-PAC). Using "Friends" in its name does not make it a 501(c)(3) organization. The chairperson and contact information for EITA-INC, EITA-PAC and FFMB-PAC are all the same. So when a representative of EITA-? recommended that two elected officials be removed from office, which organization was represented? FFMB-PAC advocates for the explicit defeat of a candidate. Since each organization has different legal and reporting requirements, transparency and clarity is needed on how each non-profit is operating.

It is a sad day when a PAC organizes in the small Town of Fort Myers Beach. A PAC has deep pockets and tries to control elections. Although legal, their activities do not represent the interests of ALL Islanders. Voters must seek answers regarding important issues for FMB and disregard personal attacks.

This raises another issue. Candidate forums are important for evaluating qualifications and positions on important issues prior to an election. The candidate forum scheduled for Feb. 11, is being sponsored by EITA-INC. A 501(c)(4) organization may conduct candidate debates if the organization does not endorse, support, or oppose any candidate. The leadership of EITA-INC has expressed explicit opinions regarding candidates, with the intention of influencing the upcoming election. The moderator chosen for the Feb.11 candidate forum is widely known on public media to be biased on the candidates. On a Feb. 2 podcast he made derogatory comments about one Town Council candidate and explicitly said he did not want that person to win. The Articles of Incorporation for EITA-INC states: "The corporation shall not participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office to an extent that would disqualify it from tax exemption under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code." Statements made by EITA-INC leadership and the moderator chosen for the Feb. 11 candidate forum appear not to be consistent with the EITA-INC Articles of Incorporation.

Tom Babcock

Fort Myers Beach



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