Team Elise observes radio silence on its falsehoods concerning NCPR

Jerry Moore

WATERTOWN — Given previous statements she’s made on nonprofit organizations breaking the law, will U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik seek to defund St. Lawrence University?

I posed this question Wednesday via email to Alex deGrasse, executive director of Team Elise. A letter Monday sent by Stefanik to the IRS clarified her position:

“As you know, the Internal Revenue Service restricts political campaign intervention by Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations …” Stefanik wrote. “According to the IRS, ‘Under the Internal Revenue Code, all Section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly from participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbally or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.’ …

“Further, the IRS states, ‘Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.’ … The ban on political campaign intervention is a requirement imposed by the United States Congress ‘for the privilege of being recognized as exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.’ It exists to protect hardworking American taxpayers from being forced to subsidize partisan initiatives.”

Wow! Stefanik wants the IRS to bring the hammer down. She is a law-and-order conservative who won’t tolerate violations of this important federal statute.

Actually, this depends upon which nonprofit organization violated the law. Stefanik lodged this complaint, oddly enough, against National Public Radio.

Her focus was curious because the alleged infraction was not committed by NPR. She said it involved the email system for NPR-affiliate North Country Public Radio.

Martha Foley Smith, NCPR’s former news director, used her work email address Nov. 1 to solicit St. Lawrence University faculty and staff for votes for herself and other Democrats. She was running in the Nov. 2 general election to keep her seat on the Canton Town Board, to which she had been appointed at the beginning of the year. Campaigning on the Democratic and Focused on the People lines, she lost to Conservative and Republican lines candidate Robert Santamoor.

Foley Smith resigned from NCPR in 2019. The station was founded by and is operated/governed by St. Lawrence University. Per school policy, former employees are allowed to continue using their work email addresses.

This was obviously a lapse in judgment on Foley Smith’s part. She called her decision to use this email address “careless and wrong.”

Stefanik and deGrasse frequently try to conflate NCPR and NPR. In a news release issued Nov. 2, she said that “NCPR is illegally using their NPR email system to campaign for local Democrats and to smear Republicans in multiple mass email blasts.”

There are a few serious errors in this statement.

First of all, NCPR didn’t send the email. And the email system in question is not owned or operated by NPR.

In fact, it’s not even NCPR’s email system. The @ncpr.org email address is an alias for the school’s domain (@stlawu.edu). Like every other division of the school, NCPR uses the university’s system.

So no NCPR resources were involved because no NCPR email system exists. It’s run by St. Lawrence University.

If an infraction of Section 501(c)(3) actually occurred, it would have been done by the school rather than the station. And even here the argument is incredibly weak because the email was sent by a private citizen, not anyone representing the university.

So I asked deGrasse this: If Stefanik honestly believed that such a use of a nonprofit resource violated Section 501(c)(3) and if she sincerely wanted to hold the guilty party responsible, would she seek to have St. Lawrence University’s nonprofit status revoked? If we accept her initial argument to the IRS, this is a logical extension.

Well, deGrasse thought that was ridiculous. I knew he would respond this way. There’s no way she would ever consider putting this kind of heat on a prominent north country institution.

This shows she doesn’t believe in the validity of her complaint. If she did, she would not hesitate to push this issue against the school.

And there’s a good reason that she shouldn’t. This was an honest mistake by a former employee, not any decision by the university. St. Lawrence University’s nonprofit status is and should remain safe and sound.

What’s disturbing is that Stefanik’s letter betrays how she wants the IRS to punish an organization she loathes regardless of the fact that it did nothing wrong. NPR was not involved with the email incident; it has no governance or management authority over NCPR.

I repeatedly asked deGrasse why NPR should be held legally liable for something done by a separate entity. He only said that NCPR was an affiliate.

But as I pointed out to him, that’s irrelevant. While they have agreements to use each other’s content, they are two independent organizations. And since the alleged infraction was not committed by NCPR, this makes Stefanik’s assertion even murkier.

I informed deGrasse that there’s no NCPR email system and asked him if Stefanik planned to withdraw her letter from the IRS now that we know her claims are bogus. He never responded to this or follow-up emails.

And who can blame him? Once it was revealed that Stefanik carried out this absurd stunt merely as an act of spite, what else can anyone say?

She sought to use a powerful agency as an instrument of vengeance against a news organization that often holds her accountable. This is reprehensible. The authority of the federal government is not a tool for her to penalize perceived enemies, and it in no way demonstrates leadership on her part.

It’s sad that Stefanik and her staffers fabricate controversies while going after rivals. It’s clear she has her priorities: Remain popular with her base, rake in as much campaign cash as possible and amass more power.

She could use her influence in the 21st Congressional District to persuade people to vaccinate themselves against the novel coronavirus. But she’s said very little on this, preferring to sit on her hands while many of her constituents get sick and die. This region has some of the worst COVID-19 statistics in the state, but she chooses to express petty grievances rather than urge residents to take effective measures.

Stefanik’s supporters will cheer louder for a contrived beef with NPR than they will for a call for us to protect each other. So spreading falsehoods about a news organization in lieu of factual information about a deadly virus polls better for Team Elise. Is this really what we’ve become?

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net. They also may follow him on Twitter: @WDT_OpEd.

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(7) comments

zeitgeist

Choose one:

A. Jerry's Truth scripts.

B. Team Elise's action hero scripts, resplendent with shootouts, fist fights, rival clashes, smear campaigns, tear downs, and rhetorical slayings.

Lacroim

Instead of political revenge Stefanik might want to look into the mirror of her own ethics violation and using her capacity in Congress and taxpayer funded government resources to help promote and sell books ( BS propaganda really) for Mollie Hemingway a private citizen …just several weeks ago.

This was also an illegal use of taxpayer money and violation of House Ethics rules…what does Stefanik always say…” Rules for thee, not for me”

Real nice product placement in all of these photos ( see link below), but very much in violation of her use of office….

“As described in the Members’ Congressional Handbook, “Member-controlled content on social media accounts is subject to the same requirements as content on Member website.”Content posted on Member websites (and thus social media accounts) must be germane to the conduct of the Member’s official and representational duties. Official websites (and thus social media accounts) may not be used for campaign or personal purposes; may not generate, circulate, or otherwise encourage petitions; MAY NOT INCLUDE ADVERTISEMENTS OR ANY PRIVATE PERSON OR ENTITY OR IMPLY GOVERNMENT ENDORSEMENT OF A PRODUCT OR SERVICE; may not include grassroots lobbying; and must be in compliance with federal law and House rules and regulations applicable to official communications.

https://www.facebook.com/100044381141073/posts/435329194623115/

KRobbins

And who can blame him? Once it was revealed that Stefanik carried out this absurd stunt merely as an act of spite, what else can anyone say?

DeGrasse has up screen shots on Twitter from the email exchange and the column along with countless laughing emojis as if that’s all supposed to prove his case somehow. I can’t help but wonder how much being nothing more than a Twitter troll for a US congressperson pays.

Thank you for a great column pointing out this dishonesty and abuse of power. What a disgusting display it’s going to be if and when Republicans take over the House. Who’s worse, the MAGA Squad or leadership like Stefanik and McCarthy who enable them?

I live in Washington County also Stefanik’s district and we have the worst Covid numbers in the state and like 58.4% fully vaxxed. Democrats are pushing for vaccinations and passing infrastructure for areas including the bright red 21st district and this is what our rep occupies herself with.

Just an aside, I’m curious what she’s going to do when John Katko gets his inevitable primary challenger. Must purge the party of the unmutuals.

HotelMike

Time to defund NPR and PBS

Farmer Liz

Absolutely spot-on. How can so many be fooled by her?

forsythia

I agree with this editorial 100%. Also her meat and potatoes supporters are on the band wagon wrongly labeling NCPR as leftists and communists. Do they ever listen to the station? I've listened to it since it was founded more than 50 years ago and have very rarely heard anything leftist, rightest or anything but fairist. What I have heard is a station the is a credit to its listeners and serves the needs of the entire listening area with class, breadth, and quality. That's more than I can say about the drivel that comes from her office and especially from her own mouth.

hermit thrush

an excellent and irrefutable column.

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