News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 30, 2007

Hamilton Center may have violated IRS code

Not-for-profit organization made campaign contributions

TERRE HAUTE — Hamilton Center, a nine-county behavioral health system, may have violated federal tax law by making political contributions to Terre Haute mayoral candidates Kevin Burke and Duke Bennett.

Hamilton Center Inc. donated $1,000 to Burke’s campaign in the Democratic party primary for Terre Haute mayor in February 2007.

After the May primaries, the mental health corporation made a pair of $500 donations to the general election campaign fund of Republican Duke Bennett.

Bennett, who defeated Burke by 107 votes in the election, is director of operations at the Hamilton Center.

Burke and Bennett reported these contributions in campaign finance reports filed with the Vigo County Clerk’s Office earlier this year. All the contributions are marked as “direct” as opposed to “in-kind” donations.

“They are just not allowed to do that,” said Steve Weissman, associate director for policy at the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington, D.C. The CFI is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit research and education institute associated with George Washington University.

Hamilton Center Inc., based in Terre Haute, is designated as a 501(c)(3) organization under the federal tax code. Such organizations can accept tax-deductible contributions but are prohibited from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign … for elective office,” according to information provided by the IRS in Washington.

“There is an absolute prohibition against any political campaign intervention [by 501(c)(3) organizations],” Weissman said. “It’s in the tax code. It’s in the law and it’s in regulations. So that’s illegal.”

According to the Indiana Election Division, between 1998 and 2006, Hamilton Center has donated $19,200 to candidates for state offices.

Recipients of that money include area Democrats Rep. Dale Grubb, Rep. Clyde Kersey, Rep. Vern Tincher, Rep. Alan Chowning, Sen. Mark Blade and Sen. Tim Skinner, as well as Lt. Gov. Katherine Davis, Gov. Joe Kernan and Gov. Frank O’Bannon.

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