12 August 2010

Who is the California Farm Water Coalition?

Mike Wade, Executive Director of the California Farm Water Coalition, has often commented (or been quoted) on this blog and other places in favor of continuing or increased water deliveries to agricultural interests.

And I have often disagreed with the way that Mike has presented his case.

What bothered me was Mike's dogmatic insistence that water for ag was more important than water in other places. It reminded me of how a lawyer or lobbyist would say or do anything to benefit his client.

And that made me wonder just WHO Mike's client was. It also made me wonder if CFWC was not violating its status as a 501(c)3 non-profit, which forbids lobbying* legislators on particular legislation (such as the water bills or how to allocate federal stimulus money).

In response to this second question, Mike sent an official letter [pdf], stating that
The Coalition supports the current water bond, however we have expended no funds nor do we expect to do so in promoting it if it makes it to the ballot for a vote. While we believe the goals of the water bond are in line with the beliefs of a majority of our members, our goal is to educate rather than advocate.
Now, I don't know about you, but Mike's time costs money and Mike's advocacy in favor of the bond therefore appears to "expend funds."

Oh, and whose funds are these? I asked Mike, point blank, three times to tell me who is contributing to the CFWC, and he ignored that question each time. The About us section on the CFWC website is useless, and the Directors of the CFWC need not have anything to do with funding.

So who's paying you to NOT lobby, Mike?

Here's the beginning of an answer. Their 2008 IRS 990 [PDF] lists $370,000 in dues (from WHO?), and $230,000 in "fees" under revenue. Under expenses, there's one FT salary (Wade) and another $200,000 in "other salaries." Put differently, CFWC spends about 2 cents per acre foot "defending" or expanding agricultural water rights. Maybe that's a deal, maybe not.

So CFWC is a one-man lobbying shop. Doesn't seem very grassroots to me...

Bottom Line: If you want to know who has skin in the game, follow the money.
I've been corrected on this. Some lobbying is allowed, under some circumstances. I am MORE interested in WHO is funding CFWC. (OTOH, what does CFWC do that's NOT lobbying?) Here's what the IRS says:
An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying. For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.

7 comments:

  1. Regardless of his slipperiness in this case, his 501c3 status is not in question, based on what he's said here.

    A 501c3 absolutely can lobby, but they cannot support particular candidates or parties. They must only lobby for particular policy ideas - bills, props., etc. There is a difference between saying, "oppose SB xxx (BoJangles, Republican author) because blah, blah", and saying "oppose Mr. BoJangles because he authored SB xxx".

    A 501c3 must limit the amount of money it spends on direct lobbying of politicians to either 5 or 10%, I forget which.

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  2. @Josh -- see * above, but the ceiling appears to be about 20%. Thanks!

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  3. SP emails: "This post is amazing! I am a faculty member from PA and your post on CA interests me. Thanks for the insight"

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  4. In the end, the farmers will lose because the population just keeps growing and needs water. The farming can be done in other states and countries with more plentiful water.

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  5. I'm not sure what "lobbying" that you've seen Mike engaging in. Putting out press releases, posting on blogs and comment boards, and educating the public through other venues is not "lobbying" according to the legal definition, nor does it violate any 501(c)3 rules to my knowledge.

    There are a lot of instances where various individuals or companies with similar goals pool together to hire a person (or people) to further those goals. Local business associations, industry and commodity groups, and lots more do this, and it doesn't make them any less "grassroots" because they pooled their money to hire someone to do the work.

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  6. Also, Trager - what other areas have the water, climate and geography to reliably grow avocados, almonds, dates, plums, artichokes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seed in the quantities needed? There is a reason California is by far the number one agricultural state. It has the climate(s) and geography(ies) to grow an incredible variety of commodities in large quantities year-round.

    Ag's water use has remained fairly constant over the last 50 years, even though productivity has increased significantly. So who's causing the increased pressure on supply?

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  7. I've been corrected on this. Some lobbying is allowed, under some circumstances. I am MORE interested in WHO is funding CFWC. (OTOH, what does CFWC do that's NOT lobbying?) Here's what the IRS says:

    "An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

    Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying. For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status."

    Do regulations limit a 501(c)3 non-profit from lobbying an agency (California Water Commission) hearing. Yea, he identified himself as speaking on behalf of farmers and California agriculture and one of the agricultural volumetric measurement meetings. Getting these guys recorded when they are breaking the law would seem to be the way to crack that nut.

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