Tax-Exempt Status in Danger

On Thursday, the NY Times published an article about how up to 400,000 tax-exempt organizations — including charities and trade associations — may lose their exemptions on May 15.

[F]ederal legislation passed in 2006 required all nonprofits to file tax forms the following year. Previously, only organizations with revenues of $25,000 or more — or the vast majority of nonprofit groups — had to file. The new law, embedded in the 393 pages of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, also directed the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the tax exemptions of groups that failed to file for three consecutive years. Three years have passed, and thus the deadline looms.

I’ve emailed the public contact addresses of the three best-known comic non-profits — the CBLDF, Friends of Lulu, and the Hero Initiative — to confirm that they won’t be affected by this legal change, but I have yet to receive any response. I would imagine that most, if not all, of them take in more than $25,000 a year, so they’d be filing anyway.

Thankfully, most donors to changed groups won’t be affected, since “[d]onors to affected groups will be able to take a deduction for gifts until formal notification is received by the recipient organization.”

Update: Well, I got a response from the President of Friends of Lulu, Valerie D’Orazio, that refused to answer the question in favor of attacking me. I quote it in full:

I find it very interesting that someone who has done nothing (nothing) but put down Friends of Lulu’s efforts over the last several years now pretends to give a shit.

You are also one of the most hypocritical, pathetic, bitter human beings I have ever had the misfortune to run into in comics, far worse than the misogynists who at least are honest about what they are.

When a real journalist, not a sad bitter person with an axe to grind, contacts me, you can of course quote that interview in any further posts you wish to do pretending to give a shit about a woman’s organization you’ve done nothing but deride for many years.

I will also publish my response to you on my blog tomorrow morning.

Sincerely,
Valerie

Even if the organization is still validly tax-exempt, I would hope that potential donors would take into account the behavior of its officers when considering where to direct their donations. Valerie’s obvious hatred might have something to do with a post I made over a year ago calling her out on some inappropriate things she said, but that had nothing to do with the organization she’s the public face of. (And it ignores the times I’ve linked to her because I was agreeing with her. I guess my service as a member of Friends of Lulu’s Board of Directors was long enough ago to qualify as “many years”.)

I would have hoped that she could have separated organizational work from personal feelings. So much for the group supporting all women in comics, hunh? I guess that only applies if the President likes you. In the meantime, I invite “real journalists” to pose the same question to the organization and its officers, because it remains unanswered.

Update 2: (4/26/10) I have received the following confirmation from the CBLDF that they have no exemption issues:

“The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is fully committed to professional financial management and transparent reporting. As such, we file an IRS Form 990 each year, which is publicly available at www.guidestar.org. Our procedures include a thorough annual internal audit. It is a priority concern of the Fund that its donors understand how their contributions are utilized, and so we make every effort to maintain professional, timely and transparent financial reporting.”

My thanks to Charles Brownstein, Executive Director, for his time and response.

And the weirdest thing, for me, about all this, is finding out how many old Usenet folks hang out at Rich Johnston’s Bleeding Cool.


47 Responses to “Tax-Exempt Status in Danger”

  1. Tommy Raiko Says:

    A quick search through the information available via Guidestar (the website database the gathers and makes available information on various charities) turns up IRS Form 990s for both the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Hero Initiative for 2008, so I imagine both those groups are organized enough to be compliant with whatever the new rules’ requirements are.

    Guidestar’s most recent available Form 990 for Friends of Lulu is from 1999, though, so maybe that organization would be affected.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Thanks very much for doing that research! I figured, as public documents, those should be available somewhere, but I had no idea where to start. And yeah, FoL would be my guess as the one that might be affected, since I know they’ve gone through several leadership changes.

  3. Tommy Raiko Says:

    Aw, shucks. Happy to help. I gotta say…Guidestar is one of those sites that’s helpful to bookmark whenever the question of researching charities comes up. (Charity Navigator is another, but they don’t seem to gather data on many of the causes–like the CBLDF–that interest me.)

    Particularly after the news about various Hatian-relief charities, I’ve tried to be a bit better about the knowing a bit more about the charities soliciting my money. Even for non-comics related causes ;-)

  4. Joshua Macy Says:

    That’s a pretty astonishingly unprofessional response.

  5. James Schee Says:

    Wow… comics really are an unprofessional field aren’t they?

  6. Rivkah Says:

    “President of Friends of Lulu”

    Really? This is the kind of person who represent them? What a waste.

  7. Rivkah Says:

    Does the rest of the board know their President uses this kind of language to respond to professional emails? I am appalled by how incredibly unprofessional and personally vindictive this is. How does this make the rest of the organization and the comic book industry in general look???

    That response is downright shameful.

  8. Ray Cornwall Says:

    And Val, being ever so classy, posted this mess:

    http://occasionalsuperheroine.blogspot.com/2010/04/much-ado-about-kravitz.html

    And still never answered the question.

    I remember when FOL actually *did* things. But it’s time to be honest- FOL is a dead organization. She’s presided over the destruction of a group that was around a decade before her. She may be a very good writer, and I feel absolutely terrible for how DC treated her, but she’s been a rotten president of FOL at a time when there’s been more women in comics than ever.

  9. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Hey- this isn’t the first time a FOL president has danced around the IRS question:

    http://comicsworthreading.com/2007/02/19/friends-of-lulu-silent-on-donation-status/

  10. Ray Cornwall Says:

    By the way, I’m no tax expert, but I thought a tax-exempt charity had to show documents proving such status if a donor asked. So why the run-around?

  11. Dirk Deppey Says:

    Oh, wow.

    I’ve had pleasant dealings with Ms. D’Orazio before, but this just left me feeling embarrassed for her.

  12. Matt Jett Says:

    It is sadly amusing that even if I wanted to join the Friends of Lulu, it’s impossible because of their website. It’s been more than a few weeks since 3/19/09, shouldn’t the dues be finalized? Shouldn’t there be an updated address?

  13. Johanna Says:

    Ray, well, I think you found why Valerie is convinced I’m out to torpedo the group — I tend to ask them difficult questions. But as you say, I thought a public group had a responsibility to make such documents and decisions public. I fear you’re right, that the group is effectively defunct, except for running a web ballot once a year. No website update in six months, no convention appearances, no projects in progress that I’m aware of… but then again, how the group could make a difference has always been a tricky question. I don’t envy them searching for an answer to that.

    I do have to say that if I’m the second most unpleasant person Valerie’s ever met in the comic industry, as she alleges, then she’s had a remarkably easy time of it. And making fun of me for being “adult and reasonable”? I found myself wondering, although this is a cliche, if she was under some kind of influence when she was emailing and posting, because otherwise, I have no idea how to explain how ludicrous this all got very quickly. She reminds me of those who attack others with what they see in themselves — worrying about who’s “most wronged” by DC, making up accusations, etc. — not things that I’ve done, but boomerang claims.

  14. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Not only are there no convention updates…there’s no Facebook group, and no Twitter updates since 11/09.

    I’m still on-board with the notion that an active group aiming at getting women and girls into comics can be a good thing. Even though we’re probably getting more females to read and make comics than we have in decades, we’re still a long way off from removing some of the stigma that comics are for boys and by boys.

  15. Jamie Coville Says:

    huh, on her blog she accuses you of writing something called “Valerie D’Orazio Hates Women” (yup, with quotes) and yet a google search of that does not come up with any results, other than her blog accusing you of writing it. I just searched her name on this blog and again see no post with that title.

    Only thing that comes close was a post about her not linking When Fangirls Attack page and you were agreeing with her for the most part.

  16. Johanna Says:

    Yeah, Jamie, I wasn’t going to get into that because I feared feeding her paranoia, but it does seem she’s simply making up reasons to hate me at this point. Let’s talk about something more positive, like Ray’s point about getting more females into comics. There’s been a huge amount of progress in that area from women just doing it, making their own comics and sharing their voices about what they read and why. Have we passed the point where a formalized group, with all the legalities that entails, is needed?

  17. Rich Johnston Says:

    Here’s one. The reposting of private e-mail sent to you on your blog. Professional or not? He said, as someone about to post that self-same e-mail on *his* blog.

  18. Johanna Says:

    Oh, I knew you’d be along sooner or later, Rich, to muddy the waters. Note that I emailed to seek a public response from an organization official, and she said *she’d* be posting her response, at which point I no longer considered it private. I have not poster the later exchanges (which got worse) *because* those were not so tagged and thus will remain private.

  19. Rich Johnston Says:

    I see. I didn’t read that this meant that her reply to you was the response that she’d be posting on her blog. And it turns out that it wasn’t, at least not quite.

    Also, it’s hard to muddy waters when you’re wading into Boston’s Emerald Necklace.

  20. Kenny Cather Says:

    For what it’s worth, you, Matt Brady, and Dirk Deppey are my favorite comic journalists/pundits. I think all 3 of you are epitomes of professionalism and intelligent writing. Reading your blog helps make me a better writer. It has helped me greatly when it comes to writing difficult e-mails and documents at work. In short, Johanna, reading your blog makes me better at what I do.

    As for the other blog – I’ll just say I tend not to read the other blog for reasons that are my own. It may be this one e-mail is an unfortunate act by someone under duress. I know I’ve written an e-mail or two in duress I would like to take back (as I’m sure all of us have).

    Mostly, though, I just wanted to tell you, Johanna, that you do an excellent job.

  21. Baltimoron Says:

    Rich Johnston: terrible comics journalist or worst comics journalist?

  22. Johanna Says:

    Aw, Kenny, thank you, you made my day.

  23. Rich Johnston Says:

    Worst.

  24. kalinara Says:

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s funny that she compares you to Gladys Kravitz. Considering the poor little old lady was actually RIGHT?

  25. Johanna Says:

    Given that Bewitched is now something like 45 years old, it took me a while to remember anything about it!

  26. James Schee Says:

    I think for me the unprofessional part comes from not being able to differ from herself to what she represents.

    I have no problem if she hates Johanna with the fire of two suns. There are always going to be people that rub others the wrong way.

    Yet I’ve worked for companies that required me to work with or for people I honestly could not stand. Yet despite my own personal distaste, and given that I wasn’t just representing me but the company as a whole. I just got through it. (honestly she could have even ignored Johanna completely if she was that opposed to her)

    I don’t know if Johanna gives a damn about FOL these days or not. Yet as one of the few comic related non-profit orgs, I think it would have been more damning if she didn’t ask them as one of her feelers put out on the story.

  27. kalinara Says:

    I’m a child of Nick at Nite, I guess. :-)

  28. John Says:

    In the outside world of journalism and newspapers, this is actually how people piss off reporters and editors and pretty much make their own beds when it comes to coverage. Part of getting information out there involves being professional with people you don’t personally like – and even if the private response is emotional, putting it on a blog is really out of line. This just isn’t how professional people act.

    Which isn’t aimed at you, Johanna – if I were in your position, I probably wouldn’t even have addressed it on the blog at all, fearing that I was playing into the person’s hands, but that’s just me. For the most part you have conducted yourself in a very professional manner in this situation in which someone made a fairly cut and dry news story into a personal issue that it didn’t have to be. Congrats to you for taking the high road.

    Keep up the great work!

  29. Thom Says:

    I am perplexed at that response. I have never found myself feeling you were mean or bitter, even when we disagree on a topic. I haven’t found you hypocritical either…unless, secretly you own a blu-ray playe and watch blu-rays all the time. But that would be more lying than hypocrisy. ;)

  30. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for the laugh, Thom! No BR player, not yet. :) I’ve been hypocritical plenty of times in my life, tho — it’s part of the human condition. I do try not to be mean, as much as I can avoid it.

  31. Wolkin Says:

    Let us not forget one very important truth amidst all of this conflict:

    Gail Simone hates women.

  32. Greg G Says:

    God, Rich Johnston really is a parody of himself these days. Not that what he was ever anything to be proud of.

    A response to a request for comment is not a private email.

  33. Rich Johnston Says:

    Greg, I’ve always been me. No one else.

  34. Ray Cornwall Says:

    I like Rich Johnston. Sue me.

    Then again, I like most people. I even like Val, to be honest. I thought her memoir was an incredible read, and I envy the fact that she’s been able to break into Marvel at a time when that’s a very hard thing to do.

    I don’t even mind the fact that, after Tweeting about this, her boyfriend tried to save the day, all white knight-ish, on my Twitter feed. His heart’s in the right place, although I still got no answer on the tax-exempt thing.

  35. Johanna Says:

    Ray for the win! You are a role model for us.

  36. Laroquod Says:

    Whether Valerie is right or wrong, she has acted horribly. Being right is not an excuse for acting horribly.

    Whether or not Johanna is right or wrong, she has comported herself reasonably well and without rancour or vindictiveness. Anyone can be wrong; it isn’t a moral failing.

    It seems obvious to me on which side of this issue the right lies (having read as many background articles on both blogs as I can find), and if it isn’t with Johanna, then I must say Valerie has done just a terrible job representing herself, both in her email response and on her blog. She compares Johanna to Mrs. Kravitz but doesn’t bother to point out any resemblances between the two; it is just supposed to be so because it is so. Because it’s funny, I guess. Maybe Johanna *is* like Mrs. Kravitz; I would be curious to find out why, but Valerie doesn’t think I need to know — big mistake. And I find the same lack of rigour flows throughout her defence. Maybe she is a good writer, but in this she has failed.

    The only thing that gives me pause is Johanna’s failure to address the ‘Valeria D’Orazio Hates Women’ article (re: being accused of writing same). She was asked about it above and her answer seemed like a dodge. So I’d like to ask it again. Johanna did you write that article, and if so what happened to it? Why isn’t it online anymore? And if you didn’t write that article then who did? I do have some recollection of seeing an article with that title in my RSS feeds at one point, though I don’t think I read it and have no idea where it came from.

    Thanks.

  37. Johanna Says:

    Oh, I’m sorry, I thought that was clear from Jamie and I talking about how the article didn’t exist. I never wrote such an article or headline. I tried to find anything by that title in Google, and the only thing that shows up is her reference to it. So I have no idea what she was thinking of.

  38. Laroquod Says:

    Thanks, Johanna. I believe you. I just wanted to clear that up.

    I don’t know what the real story is with this accusation but I don’t think Valerie made up that article title ‘Valerie D’Orazio Hates Women'; I’m pretty sure I have seen that title sometime in the last year in my RSS. Doubt I read it because I don’t recall any details and besides, it’s not a topic that shouts to me, ‘This is consequential and you must read it.’ But it’s an unusual title so it stuck in my mind.

  39. Ragnell Says:

    Laroquod — The title sounds familiar to me, to the point I’d suspect I wrote it. (Nothing on my site by that title, though).

    I’ve dug up an old reference to a “Gail Simone Hates Women” post written by one of our old misogynistic trolls. Ah, the fond memories of that guy and his constant attempts for attention. Maybe that’s where we’re thinking of it from.

    http://womenincomics.blogspot.com/2007/11/november-28th-2007.html

    Please note, this guy was such an attention-starved asshole I’m not linking him directly, or even checking to see if his blog’s still there. I don’t have the energy. But the post did exist, and it was about Simone.

  40. Wolkin Says:

    (I was totally kidding before. I am not that troll.)

    I’m just sad to see so much anger flying around my favorite little world in the whole wide world, you know?

    I always hope that when people are gonna fight comics, they’re gonna be fighting about comics, instead of hating on each other. But every world has its politics and its conflicts, whether you like it or not.

    Whoever it was that said that Johanna is acting like a thoughtful, mature adult in this, whether she’s right or wrong, I agree with that. You put your anger and bitterness aside when you’re representing an organization, if you want to do so responsibly, unless that type of behavior would somehow actually be in service to your mission, which in this case is obviously not true.

  41. Joel Bryan Says:

    Thanks for that link, Ragnell! I DID look because I have the energy and the curiosity, and he appears to have deleted that article and the other one linked in that post. Kind of a shame, really. I was looking forward to rereading it and experiencing again his unique vibe of fear and hatred, plus the need for validation from attention. Any kind of attention at all.

    You don’t often see that kind of craziness distilled into its purest form. It made me nostalgic for those heady days.

  42. Kim Scarborough Says:

    I note that D’Orazio has now deleted the comments to that post, which were largely negative but polite, as I recall. Between that and not linking to this post, she seems awfully thin-skinned and petty.

  43. RAC Says:

    This isn’t the first time D’Orazio has done exactly this: pick a fight against someone for saying things she didn’t like, talk about it on her blog, and then lock/delete the comments when they weren’t going her way.

    About the time that I noticed that the only things that each of these instances had in common was Valerie D’Orazio is when I stopped reading her.

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