Illegal Lobbying by Domestic Violence Organizations in Nebraska and North Dakota?

March 27, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Who is it who opposes shared parenting?  The social science demonstrates unequivocally that, where parents are fit to care for their children, equal parenting is better for kids, better for parents and better for society generally than is sole or primary care.  So who are these people who, year in and year out, show up in legislative committee chambers in the hope of keeping kids from one of their parents?

Typically, we can count on three different groups — feminist organizations (although they’re the least prominent of the three), family lawyers and the state domestic violence establishment.  For example, last fall, all three came out in force to oppose Measure 6 in North Dakota that sought to establish a presumption of equal parenting in that state.  There the State Bar Association of North Dakota led the way creating an organization out of whole cloth about 8 weeks prior to the election and funding it solely with bar funds.  Meanwhile, the American Association of University Women and the North Dakota Council on Abused Women cheered from the sidelines.

And of course the Nebraska State Bar Association lobbied for years against equal parenting bills.

One big problem with all that is that, with the exception of feminist organizations, none of it is legal.  There are various prohibitions in the law against lobbying by mandatory organizations and by those that receive federal funding, and those organizations routinely violate those laws.

The Nebraska Bar found that out the hard way when the Nebraska Supreme Court essentially took over the operations of the Bar to prevent it from continuing to violate the law against lobbying by mandatory dues organizations.  The North Dakota Bar is now learning the same thing.  It’s been sued by one of its members for its opposition to Measure 6, a suit in which it’s unlikely to prevail.

That leaves the domestic violence organizations and, sure enough, they’re up to the same shenanigans.  What they’re doing looks every bit as illegal as the actions of the Nebraska and North Dakota bar associations.

Here’s an article that reports that the legal director of the Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition, Robert Sanford, testified against LB 437 recently (Washington Times, 3/12/15).  LB 437 is the bill pending before the state’s Judiciary Committee that would establish a presumption of equal parenting.  And the annual report of the Domestic Violence Council of Douglas County Nebraska for 2012-2013 proudly announced this, under the heading “Influencing Policy:”

In 2012 and 2013, the DVC opposed equal parenting time legislative proposals in family law.

The Form 990s (that report the financial information of non-profit organizations to the IRS) and the annual reports for both the NDVSAC and the DVC state that they receive funding from governmental sources.  And it is unquestionable that organizations that receive those taxpayer funds are prohibited by federal law from lobbying state legislatures.  That’s true of all recipients of government grants and doubly so of those that receive grants under the Violence Against Women Act as amended in 2013.  And just in case that’s not clear enough, the federal Office of Violence Against Women has a handy-dandy brochure it makes available to its grant recipients in which the point is made clearly and concisely.

Here’s the operative federal law, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1913:

No part of the money appropriated by any enactment of Congress shall, in the absence of express authorization by Congress, be used directly or indirectly to pay for any personal service, advertisement, telegram, telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation, whether before or after the introduction of any bill, measure, or resolution proposing such legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation;

And here’s the OVW’s Companion Guide for Grantees on the prohibition against lobbying.

[N]o federally appropriated funding made available under an OVW grant program may be used, either directly or indirectly, to support the enactment, repeal, modification or adoption of any law, regulation, or policy, at any level of government, except with explicit statutory authorization and express approval by OVW.

In other words, if an organization receives funds under VAWA or any other federal appropriation, it may not lobby any arm of government to influence legislation.  And yet, that is apparently what the two Nebraska DV organizations have done repeatedly in the past and continue to do.  The DVC admits it in its annual report.  And the Associated Press story published in the Washington Times reports the NDVSAC’s lobbying activities by its legal director, Mr. Sanford.  Likewise DVC Director Tara Muir also lobbied against LB 437.

Further, the North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services does likewise.  The CAWS receives almost 100% of its funding from governmental sources, but it joined with the state bar association in opposing Measure 6.  Its 2013 “Legislative Report” announced openly that,

CAWS North Dakota worked tirelessly to impact legislation in 2013.

And it goes on to list the legislation for and against which it lobbied.

It’s remarkable that, with all the effort the Office on Violence Against Women has expended to make clear their grantees’ legal obligations, none of these three grant recipients betrays the slightest awareness that what they’re doing apparently violates federal law.  Amazingly, the person doing the lobbying for the NDVSAC was its legal director who you’d think would know the law on lobbying by government grantees.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  After all, if the bar associations of two separate states manage to violate the law relating to state bar associations, why shouldn’t DV organizations do the same?

Now, when bar associations violate their members’ rights of free speech by lobbying, the worst that can happen is that a court issues an injunction against their continuing to do so.  Or, as in Nebraska’s case, the court can completely reorganize the association. 

But in the case of misuse of federal grant money, things can get a bit stickier for offenders.  As the OVW’s Companion Guide alerts grantees,

This expansion also makes the anti-lobbying restrictions enforceable via large civil penalties, with civil fines between $10,000 and $100,000 per each individual occurrence of lobbying activity.

That’s right, “per occurrence.”  So right about now, if I were an officer of one of these three organizations, I’d be doing some fast thinking about how I was going to come up with tens of thousands of dollars, and maybe far more, to pay those penalties.

I’d also be wondering just how long the federal government intends to continue funding organizations that thumb their noses at clearly articulated regulations.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#domesticviolence, #governmentlobbying, #illegalactivities, #ViolenceAgainstWomenAct, #OfficeofViolenceAgainstWomen, #StateBarAssociationofNorthDakota

One reply on “Illegal Lobbying by Domestic Violence Organizations in Nebraska and North Dakota?”

The AZ State Supreme Court is accepting proposed revisions to Rule 74 regarding the function or dysfunction of the Parenting Coordinator process. With no judicial oversight or accountability and the power to order client/victims to pay them unlimited money for services that make the situation worse so that more services will be needed at the rate of $1200 per session. All comments except for mine are in support of the status quo. Input in support of reform is needed at AZCOURTS.GOV item # R-15-0006.

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