Current law prohibits political campaign activity by non-profit organizations, charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office,” the The Internal Revenue Service website states.
The Globe reported in October that Sacramento Attorney Michael Vinding filed a complaint with the IRS about a non-profit news website violating non-profit laws. According to Vinding, his client’s opinion is that multiple postings on The People’s Vanguard of Davis, Inc. website relating to the 2018 and anticipated 2022 Yolo District Attorney campaigns “actively advocate for a certain candidate and against another candidate in violation of the law.”
“A complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service by Attorney Vinding on behalf of a group of clients, accuses The People’s Vanguard of Davis, Inc., and David Greenwald, founder, editor and executive director of the non-profit the Davis Vanguard, of running afoul of IRS regulations barring non-profits from taking partisan positions.”
Specifically, “It is unfair and illegal for the Vanguard to receive tax-free status and revenue to develop a website and then use that website to campaign for/against certain candidates,” attorney Vinding said.
In an April 19, 2022 follow-up letter (below) to the original IRS complaint, attorney Vinding explains that the issues in the original complaint continue:
“As detailed in the material already submitted, the Davis Vanguard (the “Vanguard”)… continues to violate the prohibition of 26 C.F.R. § 1.501 by publishing statements on its website supporting the campaign of prospective Yolo County District Attorney candidate Cynthia Rodriguez. The Vanguard continues to publish partisan, campaign-related statements of its own staff and publishes the statements of others supporting Ms. Rodriguez’s campaign. It is worthy to note that Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald, who is both the Secretary and member of the Vanguard’s editorial board and wife of the Vanguard Executive Director, David Greenwald, has not only endorsed the candidate publicly but has hosted a fundraiser, both are listed on the candidate’s Facebook page:”
“We are aware that executives of nonprofits are permitted to endorse and campaign for candidates in their personal capacities,” Vinding says in his letter. “The import of the above is that Ms. Greenwald’s husband, and the non-profit in which they are both officers, is publishing non-stop partisan advocacy for the candidate and the campaigning done by Ms. Greenwald demonstrates the partisan intent of the Vanguard publications—not ‘news’ or ‘education.’ We have not previously focused on the candidate’s Facebook page. However, a review of that page shows a virtual symbiotic relationship between the candidate and the Vanguard: The Vanguard issues non-stop advocacy for the candidate, then the candidate quotes the positive ‘press’ in the Vanguard as part of her campaign, all at taxpayer expense. See some of the examples from the candidate’s campaign Facebook page below spanning months, including multiple regarding the same podcast (also repeatedly published by the Vanguard as discussed in previous submissions)”:
Vinding says “We previously identified thirty six (36) partisan campaign intervention publications related to the 2022 prospective campaign for Yolo County District Attorney, all containing partisan comments, this list resumes below.”
The Globe reported on April 11, 2022, “Yolo County District Attorney Exposes Challenger’s Convicted Child Molester Donors.” Reisig, a twenty-five year prosecutor with 16 years as Yolo County DA, discovered that his challenger Cynthia Rodriguez, a former public defender and Department of Mental Health general counsel, accepted campaign contributions from “convicted sex offenders and child rapists seeking a soft on crime district attorney.” Reisig also discovered that some of the contributions exceeded the legal campaign limits allowed in Yolo County.
Vinding listed five more lengthy campaign-related articles on The People’s Vanguard of Davis, Inc. in his April 19th letter (#37-#42), including this one:
39. April 5, 2022; https://www.davisvanguard.org/2022/04/commentary-garrett-hamilton-the-latestyolo-da-to-throw-mud-in-the-das-race/; David Greenwald. Mr. Greenwald uses this post to respond to a letter written by a district attorney employee in a local paper that criticized Cynthia Rodriguez, as well as to further defend Ms. Rodriguez regarding the contributions from the child molester. The thrust and the content of the post was advocacy in the context of the election, defending Ms. Rodriguez against criticism. It includes the following:
I too think voters should ask a critical question—but it would be a little different. My question would go like this: If Jeff Reisig really is the “most innovative DA in the country” and has such a strong record, why do you need to attack your opponent over a $500 contribution from Ajay Dev’s brother?
And what has the “most innovative” DA done about these revelations [regarding an alleged wrongful conviction]? Delay, block and obfuscate.
Later, in the comments:
“I think my position would be that Reisig might claim to be changing, but there’s little evidence of that in practice. And I would argue that this line of attack demonstrates that fact. I would also argue that when Garrett Hamilton, one of the top brass in the DA’s office levels accusations such as these in the local paper, that it makes it impossible to have the kind of discussion we both believe would be best.”
Additionally, the Globe has been informed that there have been other IRS Tax-Exempt Organization Complaints filed stating that The People’s Vanguard of Davis, Inc. has been involved in political campaigns promoting certain candidates over the elected District Attorney.
“The Vanguard continues to publish a steady stream of material supporting candidate Rodriguez and criticizing incumbent DA Reisig, all at taxpayer expense,” Vinding says in closing. “We continue to be unable to reconcile the clear prohibitions listed in the regulations with these activities by the Vanguard; if these are not violations then it begs the question: What is? We ask the Service to investigate and take action because the rules are clearly written and Vanguard’s activities are plainly illegal. We urge the Service to continue its investigation of this abuse and we are available to answer any questions or provide additional information as needed.”
Read the October article, New IRS Complaint Against Non-Profit Davis Vanguard News Service.
Attorney Vinding’s April 19, 2022 follow up letter to the IRS:2022.04.19 Tax Cover Letter Supplemental 3
- Judge Halts California Capitol Annex Remodel Over CA Environmental Law Violations - December 7, 2022
- San Francisco’s Failing Political Policies Should Forewarn the Country - December 7, 2022
- Assembly Republicans Introduce ‘California Promise’ Priorities, Solutions - December 6, 2022