Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
Rep. Blaine Leutkemeyer is right that the IRS should not target any charitable organization solely on the basis of its ideology. Yet that’s exactly what he’s asking the IRS to do in his factually unfounded attacks on The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal welfare organization and one that has the highest marks from the top charity watchdog organizations.
Leutkemeyer’s hostility toward HSUS began during the Missouri Proposition B campaign. As a political ally of puppy mill operators, Leutkemeyer didn’t like Prop B’s call for more humane breeding standards. Even though Missouri voters approved Prop B in November 2010, he and other federal and state lawmakers called for its repeal even before it went into effect.
Leutkemeyer also objects to our campaigns to promote more humane and sustainable agriculture — mainly through our efforts to halt extreme confinement of animals on factory farms. We are working with the United Egg Producers, which represents more than 90 percent of U.S. egg production, to provide more space for laying hens, and together we are backing a bill in Congress that Leutkemeyer opposes. The HSUS has also worked with more than 50 major American food retailers — from McDonald’s to Costco to Cracker Barrel — within the last 16 months to announce new policies to phase out their purchases of pork from operations that confine sows in metal gestation crates.
Because he doesn’t like our work to promote the humane treatment of animals, Leutkemeyer has asked the IRS to target the HSUS — the very thing he condemns the agency for doing to other organizations. The fact is, HSUS, like most major charities, is regularly audited by the IRS. It has not gotten a pass from the agency, as Leutkemeyer falsely claims.
Like any 501(c)(3) organization, the HSUS is allowed to conduct some lobbying, but is forbidden from supporting or opposing candidates for office. We observe those standards with rigor. The HSUS, on average, spends less than 5 percent of its funds on lobbying.
The Humane Society Legislative Fund, an affiliated but separately funded 501(c)(4) organization with a specific mission to promote animal welfare, is allowed to conduct a wider range of expressly permitted political activities. Leutkemeyer conflates the work of HSUS and HSLF, in an unfortunate and, one must assume, intentional misrepresentation.
Another of Leutkemeyer’s willful misrepresentations is that “only 1 percent of the money HSUS raises makes its way to animal shelters at all.” The HSUS is not a grant-making agency, just like the American Farm Bureau does not exist simply to give grants to farmers and the AARP does not exist to give grants to retirement homes.
Here are the facts. The HSUS works to protect all animals from cruelty and abuse. We have the nation’s largest and most robust animal rescue program — working with law enforcement to rescue animals from illegal puppy mills, hoarding operations, dogfights, cockfights and other large-scale cruelties. With its affiliates, the HSUS also runs the nation’s largest network of animal care centers. We have a veterinary division that provides services to animals in the most remote parts of the country and abroad. We run inner-city programs that provide animal-care services to pets and the people who care about them. And we run international street dog management programs that touch the lives of countless people and animals.
Not long ago, the HSUS was rated by its peers in animal protection as the nation’s most effective group in our field. That’s ultimately the reason for Leutkemeyer’s interest in HSUS — that we do too much for animals, rather than too little. His political targeting of animal welfare is disingenuous, wrong on the details, and hypocritical.
Wayne Pacelle is president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, humanesociety.org.