New York Farmworker Protection Bill

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Rural and Migrant Ministry the lobbyist
RMM does not restrict its lies about farmworkers, farms, and farmers. Its executive director and board also tell lies about their own organization and what it does with all those tax-deductible contributions and foundation grants. The facts follow…

Rural and Migrant Ministry (RMM) began to aggressively lobby to change New York State labor laws in connection to agricultural labor soon after Richard Witt was hired to be the Executive Director in 1991. In the first portion of this video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUH-YTSobS8, taken from a documentary that appeared on RNN back in September 26, 1996, Witt takes ‘credit’ for New York state legislation passed in 1996 pertaining to drinking water. Witt states "after three years of working for this," RMM got the legislation passed. (By the way, federal law under OSHA already required farmers to provide drinking water in the fields. The state law merely duplicated what federal law already required.)

The next two brief snippets of this video are from a documentary produced in 2000 by an Episcopal priest named John E. Denaro entitled "WE GATHER: Ministry and Advocacy with Farmworkers." In the first portion you will see the list of three separate pieces of state labor law legislation RMM successfully lobbied for, all prior to 2000. Then the video shows a number of church people take part in RMM's annual "Farmworker Advocacy Day" in 2000. The day consists of a gathering in Albany, New York and visits to New York State legislators to push for specific legislation (aka, lobbying). According to RMM's website, this annual lobby day had been going on since 1995 (
http://web.archive.org/web/20040707195039/http://www.ruralmigrantministry.org/about/about_3.asp).

And yet, prior to RMM's 2001 tax filing (as a church/non-profit they file a tax return called a “990”), RMM claimed they did not lobby
at all. (Pre-1996 returns are not available, but it’s likely RMM claimed no lobbying prior to 1996 as well). [As a 501(c)(3) non-profit, lobbying is strictly curtailed, as contributions to the non-profit are tax-deductible. An organization can file a 501(H) election form, which limits lobbying and expenses for the same (salaries, travel, publications, etc.) to a specific portion of the group’s revenues. To be safe, most non-profits will not lobby at all, and instead form a separate organization under the IRS code, called a 501(c)(4), as opposed to a 501 (c)(3).]

So why did Rural and Migrant Ministry all of the sudden tell the IRS they were lobbying, starting in their 2001 filing, when they were obviously lobbying for years beforehand? Perhaps RMM knew it was about to get busted. From late 2001 through early 2002, the New York State Lobby Commission investigated Rural and Migrant Ministry for significant lobby law violations. The Commission found RMM guilty of wrongdoing, issued fines and forced RMM to register as lobbyists (
http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20020730/NEWS/307309992).
Further, in their settlement agreement with the Lobby Commission, RMM agreed to this statement: "whereas, it is clearly established that Richard Witt, Jr. and the Mid-Hudson Rural and Migrant Ministry, Inc., failed to file timely and/or accurate report(s) as a lobbyist and client in New York State for the years 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002...." Obviously this is a tacit admission that RMM was a lobbyist and incurred lobbying expenses from 1999 forward. (RMM was no doubt lobbying and had related expenses prior to 1999, but pre-1999 years were beyond the scope of the investigation.)
Starting with its 2003 IRS tax filing, RMM finally began filing as an ‘electing’ public charity. In statement 7 of its 990 tax return regarding the 501(H) election, RMM clearly states: "2001 WAS THE FIRST YEAR OF THE ORGANIZATION’S 501(H) ELECTION. THERE WERE NO LOBBYING EXPENSES PRIOR TO 2001."


Why is this all important? Because for a non-profit organization classified as a 501(c)3 by the IRS, which RMM is, it cannot engage in lobbying beyond a "substantial part" of its overall activities. The fact is, by Witt's own admission in the video and on RMM's website, as well as in other written materials produced by them and in media stories they appeared in at the time, Witt and RMM was lobbying as early as 1993. The video shows their elaborate (and no doubt, costly) lobby day held in 2000. And yet, from 1996 to 2000, RMM claims to the IRS they didn't lobby at all, saying clearly in its 2003 return that the organization incurred
no lobbying expenses prior to 2001 – this despite the 2002 settlement agreement with the NYS Lobby Commission admitting RMM had been lobbying and incurred lobbying expenses as far back as at least 1999.
If Witt and RMM were engaged in lobbying activities (as we have shown)
before they were forced to admit it on their 2001 return, and did incur expenses prior to 2001 despite what they claimed on their 2003 tax return, then Witt and Mid-Hudson Rural and Migrant Ministry, with the obvious support of the board of directors, has knowingly provided false information to the IRS over the years regarding lobbying. All tax documents are signed under penalties of perjury.

To date, despite clear evidence, the Internal Revenue Service has neglected to investigate or otherwise hold RMM accountable.