More ad woes for Syverson's re-election

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Incumbent state Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) has run into more objections to campaign spots running on local TV stations.

Earlier in the election season, Democrats Chuck Jefferson and Doug Scott were outraged to see themselves pictured in a Syverson ad. They argued use of their images implied an endorsement they had not made.

Democrat Doug Aurand, who is running for a District 3 seat on the Winnebago County Board, was also surprised to see himself pictured alongside Syverson in materials circulated by the senator’s campaign.

Syverson dismissed the objections by claiming public officials are pictured together all the time, and he did not intend to imply their endorsement.

The latest ad removed from Syverson’s rotation featured Carm Herman, who is the executive director of the non-profit Barbara Olson Center of Hope. The Center has been serving area children and adults with developmental disabilities for more than 50 years. In the ad, which aired on local television, the Barbara Olson Center of Hope’s entrance was pictured in the spot, with Herman noting the support of Syverson on behalf of the disabled.

The Internal Revenue Service, which regulates such 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, mandates that these not-for-profits are prohibited from being involved in political campaigns, whether directly or indirectly.

The IRS does, however, have a provision stating, “The political campaign activity prohibition is not intended to restrict free-expression on political matters by leaders of organizations speaking for themselves, as individuals.” A distinction Syverson’s ad blurred by associating Herman with the Center.

A Syverson ad featuring Tim Dimke, the executive director of the Rockford Park District, who was appointed July 25, was crafted in a similar fashion, with Dimke lauding Syverson and Park District facilities being shown.

“I guess I made the ad back in April or March, and it was a ‘thank you’ for Dave and the state and all the work that has been done for us,” Dimke said. “Although it was kind of spun out that I was endorsing him, it wasn’t that I was endorsing him or the Republicans. I’ve already drafted a policy to put before the board for those of us as the face or voice of the district, and we’ll have a policy for that. It was not intended as a slap against Dan [Lewandowski] or other Democrats at the time. We just have to come up with other ways of thanking Dave and the state. The words I ended up speaking in the commercial were thanking, just not Dave, but all the folks at the state, which are out of his hands at this time. I offer my apologies for any actions that brought any negativity to our staff, or the board, or Dave.”

Syverson said: “These agencies do a lot of good in our community, and I strongly support them. The fact that people would attack them for only talking about how we’ve helped them is unfortunate.”

Herman, who replied via e-mail, said: “The Center of Hope was not made aware that commercials were being aired for Senator Syverson. When we found out about the commercials, a letter was immediately written to Senator Syverson’s campaign office, requesting they be pulled off the air.”

Syverson stated he thought Herman had been aware of how her remarks would be used and apologized for any miscommunication.

He added he stopped accepting his state salary a year ago, instead putting the money toward supporting local programs, like the Center, to help circumvent state cuts.

Syverson maintained Dimke and Herman’s comments in the spots are simply in response to the work he’s done for their agencies.

“None of them are saying, on behalf of any organization, that they are endorsing me,” Syverson explained, “These are just individuals that are grateful for the help that we’ve given them.”

According to Herman, the Syverson campaign pulled the ad within two days.

Syverson denied that any spots stopped airing in response to objections, and said the new commercials were simply rotated in as he’d originally planned. He added the local daily incorrectly reported ads were pulled prematurely.

In a speech made earlier this year, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson noted the extent to which his agency has gone to warn 501(c)(3) organizations from participating in political activities.

“We spread this message every way we could: by press releases, speeches, workshops, IRS Nationwide Tax Forums, and even in a letter to seven national political parties,” Everson said. He also referred to a dedicated enforcement program designed to stop improper political activity during, not after, the election season.

Illinois IRS spokesman Sue Hales said she could not comment about particular incidents.

Everson has stepped up enforcement since noticing an upswing in political activity by 501(c)(3) organizations in 2004.

Organizations such as the Barbara Olson Center could jeopardize their tax-exempt status if they are found to have engaged in politicking.

Everson stressed tax-exempt status is not a right, but a privilege.

The Supreme Court has held, “Congress has not violated (an organization’s) First Amendment rights by declining to subsidize its First Amendment activities.”

If the Center or the Park District were to lose 501(c)(3) status, donations to the organizations would no longer be tax-deductible. However, first-time offenses are generally overlooked and regarded as isolated incidents by the IRS enforcement unit.

Syverson has held a seat in the Illinois Senate for 14 years. Rockford Democrat Dan Lewandowski is his first challenger in 10 years. With the predicted anti-Republican backlash coming off national and state politics, many observers view Lewandowski’s challenge to Syverson as serious.

From the Oct. 4-10, 2006, issue

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