A Pacific Northwest business-labor coalition asked the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) last Tuesday to examine the nonprofit, tax-exempt status of the environmental organization Columbia Riverkeepers (CRK) for allegedly working covertly in a recent anti-liquefied natural gas (LNG) local election. Energy Action Northwest filed a complaint against CRK and asked the IRS to launch an investigation.

Last month Energy Action alleged that the environmental organization's covert work supposedly led to the narrow recall of one of five members of the Clatsop County (OR) Commission, a majority of which has supported building an LNG receiving terminal along the Columbia River.

The pro-LNG business-labor group said its complaint is based on evidence that alleges CRK has "violated, and continues to violate" the federal tax-exempt prohibition against political activity by participating in campaigns supporting the recall of Clatsop County commissioners who have voted on various land-use issues relating to the development and construction of a LNG import terminal on the Columbia River.

"We believe the information we've assembled, including various documents, news articles, online postings, web pages and emails, provides conclusive evidence of CRK's participation and intervention in the political campaigns supporting the recall of Clatsop County Commissioners Jeff Hazen, Ann Samuelson, Patricia Roberts and Richard Lee,” said Energy Action Northwest Executive Director Tom Ivancie.

Since reports surfaced in mid-November on the environmental organization's alleged activity through some online news media in Oregon, Ivancie and his colleagues now contend that additional information has been uncovered that points to the CRK not just participating in prohibited activities but in "actively directing and leading" the political activities. "By engaging in such activities, CRK forfeits the right to its tax-exempt status, which is reserved for those charitable organizations dedicating to serving the public good," Ivancie said.

Because of CRK's political activities, Caltsop County has had to hold four special elections in the past two years, Energy Action said. It contends that the environmental group's intent is to delay badly needed new energy infrastructure in the region that would also help the economy and provide new jobs.

One member of the Clatsop County panel easily beat the recent recall, but a second member did not, prompting the Energy Action coalition to call for CRK's oversight board to investigate what the energy coalition alleges was the environmental group's staff and executive director "secretly participating in political campaign activities against elected officials involved in the [LNG] project that CRK opposes while simultaneously denying it," according to Ivancie. Samuelson was barely recalled by four votes in October, which was just confirmed following a 50% turnout for the recall election. A year earlier another Clatsop County official was recalled by a 2-1 margin. While one of the pro-LNG commissioners survived, yet another one will go through a recall vote next Tuesday.

Energy Action has been strongly criticizing and pushing back against opponents of NorthernStar Natural Gas Corp.'s proposal to build a 1 Bcf LNG receiving facility, Bradwood Landing. The pro-energy group contends that the opponents have consistently misrepresented facts about LNG generally and the Bradwood project specifically. As a nonprofit organization, CRK is prohibited from taking active political advocacy roles, and Energy Action alleges there there is third-party evidence that the organization did that in campaigning to recall the two commissioners.

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