Capitol Hill Congressional offices can expect lobbying visits this week from the Restaurant Opportunities Center, a labor union front group campaigning for a nearly 40 percent hike in the federal minimum wage. But while ROC has been lobbying for years to advance the labor agenda, it repeatedly reported to the IRS that it did no lobbying — until now.
Last April, we asked the IRS to investigate the nonprofit ROC for its years of aggressive lobbying at the local, state and federal levels. We also went public with a report that detailed years of ROC’s boasts about the scope and effectiveness of its lobbying, contrasted with its annual denials to the IRS that it was lobbying at all.
Now a newly-public document that ROC submitted to the IRS four months after our complaint reveals that ROC has finally admitted both that it has been lobbying for years, and that it failed to disclose this for years to the Internal Revenue Service.
ROC, organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit worker center to skirt federal labor laws, has now detailed, all the way back to 2009, its direct and grassroots lobbying. But ROC insists its total lobbying expenditures were small enough each year so as not to jeopardize its crucial tax-exempt status and to minimize its potential liability for years of misstatements.
ROC’s confession puts the IRS in a difficult spot, as the agency is in the midst of a scandal involving its partisan targeting of conservative groups. Now we have a Democratic-aligned labor union group confessing to years of undisclosed lobbying. What will the IRS do?
Nor is the IRS the only federal agency that ROC has misled. As Watchdog reported in February, ROC United misled the Department of Labor about its then-pending tax-exempt status so it could secure a taxpayer-funded grant in 2009. While assuring Labor that it then enjoyed tax-exempt status, ROC United did not secure its tax-exempt status until the next year, 2010.
Given how cozy ROC and the Labor Department have become, working in unison in support of a minimum wage hike, it raises questions about what DOL knew about ROC and when it knew it. Did ROC keep Labor in the dark about the truth, or was it a wink-wink among political allies as one distributed taxpayer money to the other?
These new revelations should make for some awkward moments as ROC lobbies Congressional offices this week, particularly ROC’s attacks on the restaurant trade association. ROC recently attacked the association for “influence peddling,” as if ROC and its union allies were not aggressive lobbyists in their own right. But while ROC’s relationship with the SEIU and AFL-CIO might be termed one of “friends with benefits,” ROC and the truth are just casual acquaintances.
ROC’s repeated misstatements to multiple federal agencies both call into question its veracity with respect to its minimum wage claims, as well as more fundamentally, whether it is an appropriate entity to be receiving taxpayer funds.