Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : October 2009

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In Annapolis, the voice for animals is growing stronger. Maryland Votes for Animals (MVFA), the first Maryland state political action committee (PAC) focused on the humane treatment of animals, is readying to protect animals through non-partisan political advocacy. As a PAC, MVFA will wield power in the law-making arena with a voting bloc that can mobilize animal-friendly voters on Election Day.

Maryland ranks a low 32nd place on the strength of its state animal protection laws, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund 2008 State Report. MVFA chose a PAC as its organizational entity after identifying the lack of a statewide political organization fighting for animal rights in Maryland. Its status as a PAC will enable MVFA to focus its efforts on election victories for pro-animal politicians who will champion and vote for animal protection legislation. Through the PAC, MVFA will also be able to hold accountable politicians who oppose stronger animal protection laws. This new strategy will help bring the legislature into line with public opinion on animal welfare in Maryland.

Maryland state PACs are formed and regulated under the Maryland Campaign Finance Law. In determining which type of entity was appropriate for the organization, the various benefits and limitations under both state and federal laws were reviewed.

How an organization is treated for federal tax purposes is always a driving force in any group’s organizational decision-making process. In the Maryland animal law movement, pro-animal, non-profit organizations have historically been organized primarily as Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, or as 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations. These organizations are generally exempt from state and federal income tax. IRC section 527 governs how PACs are treated for federal tax purposes, and political organizations meeting these requirements are also exempt from state and federal income tax.

How an organization is regulated in terms of permissible activities was a significant factor that needed to be considered as well. The IRC limits the use of contributions and other income by a non-profit based upon its organizational structure. While contributions and other income may be exempt from federal income tax, the non-profit organization is subject to limitations on its activities in utilizing those funds. Importantly, the type of entity impacts whether an organization can engage in political activity, the intended focus for MVFA.

MARYLAND RANKS
a low 32nd place on the strength of its animal protection laws, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund 2008 State Report.

In particular, the IRS regulates election advocacy and the extent to which an organization is permitted to advocate for the election of a candidate to office. A PAC has the ability to fully utilize its funds for direct candidate election advocacy, while a 501(c)(4) organization has limitations on utilizing its funds for election advocacy, and a 501(c)(3) organization is prohibited from using its funds for election advocacy. This was a major driving force behind MVFA’s decision to organize as a PAC and directly advocate for the election of political candidates to office.

Animal advocates have significant power that has been underutilized in Maryland, and there are many avenues of election advocacy that MVFA can undertake. These include lobbying, electioneering, get-out-the-vote, direct campaign involvement, and endorsements. Identifying pro-animal candidates and supporting their campaigns is a strong political tool, and developing scorecards and an endorsed candidate list for animal-friendly candidates is very effective for holding lawmakers accountable on Election Day.

MVFA is convinced that the vast majority of Maryland voters believe that living creatures should be treated compassionately and that deliberate acts of cruelty to animals are not acceptable in a civilized society. MVFA’s overriding mission is “to create an ever-growing voting bloc of animal advocates who will elect representatives willing to champion and vote for animal protection legislation, and to hold politicians accountable to their constituents.”

Functioning politically works for animal advocacy. Organizations supporting animal-friendly candidates in other states report a significant success rate for their endorsed candidates. For example, in Pennsylvania, the Humane USA PA PAC reports that 97 percent of its recommended legislative candidates were elected in 2008. MVFA is ready to bring political advocacy to the table in Maryland and will deliver votes to elect politicians who will support and strengthen animal protection laws.

Amy Elizabeth Hanigan was a practicing attorney in New YorkState from 1984 to 2001.  She is currently a private consultant in Annapolis and also provides research, writing and editing services on various legal texts and treatises.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: October 2009

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