Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Columbia Association Code of Conduct (updated)

Posted by David Keelan on Monday, October 30, 2006

The Code of Conduct

Does anyone here see any reason that Cindy Coyle, Barbara Russell, or Rebecca Johnson violated the Code of Conduct when they endorsed Chris Merdon?

Are they not permitted to

“speak publicly as an individual board member on issues that affect those we serve”?

Would bringing them (or threatening to bring them) to the Columbia Association Board of Directors Ethics Committee be an act of intimidation and a violation of their first amendment rights?  Would it be an act of retribution?

Your thoughts.

UPDATE: Somebody told me that the CA is actually meeting about this.  I about fell out of my chair.

This is on the CA website

The Columbia Association Board of Directors will hold a special meeting on Thursday, November 2, 2006, at 6:30pm in the CA Headquarters Boardroom to discuss CA’s policy on public support of political candidates.

CA Headquarters is located at 10221Wincopin Circle, above Clyde’s Restaurant. For more information, please contact 410.715.3000  

The CA issued a statement about their 501c4 position.

In a recent political advertisement for Chris Merdon, candidate for the office of Howard County Executive, two supporters were listed by their names and their titles as “Director Columbia Association Board”. These two individuals in no way represent the opinion of the Columbia Association, Inc., and nor was this action taken as a Board Member but as an independent citizen of Columbia.

It is the policy of the Columbia Association, Inc. per its charter and as a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization not to be involved in local, state, or national politics.

The only reason they need to meet on this is because they want to tell the public one thing and one thing only.  This is not a violation of IRS rules and at no time was the CA 501c4 status in jeopardy.  Read the document below and that will be abundently clear.  I am looking for the charter now.

http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/eotopicm95.pdf 

In fact the Columbia Association could endorse anyone they wanted as the Columbia Association without any problem as long as they met their primary mission under 501c4 rules.

I called the CA to find out if this was a public meeting.  I was told that at this time it was but that could change because of the nature of the meeting.  This should remain open to the public and the CA should affirm these member’s First Amendment rights.

Charter located here.

The Corporation shall have no members other than the Columbia Council representatives, as hereinafter defined, and no part of the net earnings of the Corporation shall at any time in any manner inure to the benefit of any member, director or individual. No substantial part of the activities of the Corporation shall consist of carrying on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, provided that the Corporation may elect to have its allowable expenditures for such purpose determined in accordance with the provisions of section 501(h) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, as amended; nor shall it in any manner or to any extent participate in or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office; nor shall the Corporation engage in any activities that are unlawful under applicable Federal, state or local laws.

This doesn’t mention individual members and those members in question made it clear they were speaking for themselves.  Using the name of the CA doesn’t matter except to the most ardent partisan.

Stand up for free speech.

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10 Responses to “Columbia Association Code of Conduct (updated)”

  1. observer said

    What? Is Ken Ulman going to villify these folks for endorsing Merdon? Has he filed a complaint? Sounds like he has trouble playing with others. Desperate people will do desperate things.

  2. hocomd said

    Observer, I didn’t say that anyone brought ethics charges against these people, and I never mentioned Ken Ulman. You are drawing your own conclusion on this. (How is that for a disclaimer?)

    I have seen other blogs discuss whether these three did something wrong relative to their positions on the CA Board and endorsing Merdon so I posed the question here.

    Someone very well may make a valid case that they did violate the Code of Conduct. Although I don’t see anything in the code that would lead me to believe so.

  3. Numbersgirl said

    I can see a problem if they signed the letter or whatever it was as a member of the CA board. If they signed as private citizens, no issue.

    But signing as a member of the CA board could take the tone of the CA board itself endorsing the candidate. This could fall under the “speak for or act on behalf of the organization.”

  4. hocomd said

    Reg. 1.501(c)(4)-1(a)(2)(ii) provides that the promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. Thus, an organization exempt under IRC 501(c)(4) may engage in political campaign activities if those activities are not the organization’s primary activity. In contrast, organizations exempt under IRC 501(c)(3) are absolutely prohibited from engaging in political activities (and may, in addition, be subject to tax under IRC 4955 if they make any “political expenditures”).

    In summary, as members of the board these individuals did not jeopardize the CA 501c4 status. In fact the CA could endorse anyone they wanted in any campaign and not violate their 501c4 status. The litmus test is this; is the CA still a social organization under Rev. Code 501c4. Yes they clearly are.

    The IRS makes this abundantly clear.

  5. hocomd said

    Numbers,

    The Press Release made it clear.

    We stand beneath the Tree of Life, more commonly known to most of us as the People Tree. It is a fitting place for our announcement today symbolizing as it does, the power of individual citizens working together to create a true community. We are here as individual voters, nearly all registered Democrats or Independents, to affirm that we strongly support Chris Merdon, Republican, for Howard County Executive.

  6. Numbersgirl said

    The question as originally posed wasn’t whether the CA was in violation of the IRC, the question was whether the individual board members violated the CA code of conduct.

    As the code of conduct is written, it is possible that its members, using their CA titles, are in violation.

    I am not an ardent partisan. I make no judgement on what these people did. But, you asked if it were possible to read it that way, and I answered. Your update is a little along the lines of a bait-and-switch routine though.

  7. hocomd said

    Numbers,
    Didn’t mean to bait and switch. I posed it as hypothetical and then found out someone actually did file an ethics complaint.
    I don’t mean to call you a partisan and I apologize.

  8. Hayduke said

    Where did you call Numbers a partisan?

  9. Numbersgirl said

    Hayduke- He didn’t call me a partisan. I was responding to his statement that “Using the name of the CA doesn’t matter except to the most ardent partisan.”

  10. Fran said

    Be Real. The Merdon campaign probably just got a little over-excited about all the endorsements and noted the most prominent affiliation with each person taking part in this unusual endorsement…

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