The Sign Of Election Season
Oskaloosa, Iowa – It’s obvious when driving around town that the election season is upon us. The trees are changing color and neighbors yards each have their own colors added to them. The blue and reds and the gold of artificial color add to or detract from the natural coloring this time of year, depending upon who you talk with.
Something a bit different this year is also the large yard signs, those bearing the name of a candidate, sometimes five candidates, named on a sign. Who paid for those signs and where did they come from?
The answer to that question resides at the bottom right corner of the sign: paid for by TARA, or any other committee.
Understanding that relationship between TARA or also known as Taxpayers Against Regional Airport, the candidates it’s endorsing, and the public has been an area of confusion since those signs first arrived on area front lawns.
There are two parts to TARA. There is the corporation that was filed and registered with the Secretary of State office in late May of this year.
The corporation TARA or Taxpayers Against Regional Airport is filed as a 501(c)(4) with the Internal Revenue Service.
Interest in the group started when a portion of the articles of incorporation, in particular, Article 7, section 7.2. That states, “The Corporation shall not directly or indirectly participate or intervene in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, the Corporation may engage in political activities germane to the purposes set forth in Article III of these Articles.”
Those activities that were outlined in Article III in section 3.2 state, “Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the principal purpose of the Corporation shall be to educate the public and raise public awareness about a proposed regional airport to be built in Mahaska County, Iowa. It will research and gather information on the proposed regional airport and subsequently distribute the same to taxpayers.”
The second portion of TARA is TARA-PAC.
A PAC or Political Action Committee exists most times to represent those of a certain ideological interest, business or labor. Their purpose is to see a select group of candidates elected to office or another group of candidates defeated.
This PAC is the arm of TARA that is raising and spending money in the promotion of candidates it’s endorsing. An example of their spending would include the large signs that include five local candidate’s names on it, or the recent mailings that have arrived in resident’s mailboxes.
TARA-PAC is registered with the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board, and will be required to disclose its financial report to them and the voters 5 days before the November 5th election.
Rob Hammann is the Committee Chairperson for TARA-PAC and is also on the executive board of TARA, the non-profit. Hammonn is one of those rural Mahaska County homeowners who took an interest in the proposed regional airport, and the potential proximity it would have with his home.
The PAC was organized with the understanding “We understood that if we did anything political, we would need to separate a different organization out of that because of the rules that are behind that (TARA Inc.).” explained Hammann.
“The next step then was, as the political season got closer, was to kind of spin off this TARA-PAC group which is the political side,” said Hammann. This is the portion of TARA that promotes candidates.
With the two entities separated, funds can be donated to either the non-profit or to the PAC. Those funds that are donated to the non-profit are not reported in an ethics report, but the non-profit company TARA can only donate up to 50% of its total income to TARA-PAC. Hammann said that if people are interested in giving to the political side of things, “they will give to the TARA-PAC group.”
Those funds then donated to TARA-PAC, by individuals and other entities, will then be available on the ethics report. Also available on the ethics report will be how the group spent those donated funds, and to whom.
The group has had other assistance, as well, in helping to organize itself. In it’s earlier meetings, organizers from Americans for Prosperity helped the group train on how to canvas Oskaloosa to help obtain signatures for the group’s petition.
Hammann said that, at this point, he’s not had much contact with the group since that initial help and it’s now currently limited to updates on what is happening with the election. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be something in the future.”
Hammann made clear the TARA Group received no funds, but was loaned equipment that had mapping software on them to aid in the canvas.
Americans for Prosperity is a political advocacy group that played a substantial role in the 2010 elections, helping land many new Republican faces into the U.S. House of Representatives.
When asked if the non-profit corporation arm of TARA was organized as a way to hide money, Hammann stated, “not at all.” Hammann said that the original TARA money was used in legal fees “to initially look over all the documents we have received. Another chunk of it went towards the Freedom of Information Act. That was very expensive for us to do.” Other funds were then spent on advertising. “That’s where the bulk of our money went.”
Hammann said, that the TARA Group is not raising funds at all, but TARA-PAC has been. “So when we’re talking money now, it’s TARA-PAC. It’s the political activist group. The money right now has strictly been purchasing signs.” He says they have also been helping to organize upcoming meetings.
When it comes to the city election, five candidates appear on TARA-PAC purchased signs. “TARA did not go out and solicit these people to run,” says Hammann. “Surprisingly, I know. What we did do was ask that if there were people running, that aligned with what our agenda was, obviously removing of the eminent domain that we wanted to know about that.”
The city election is to be held on November 5th, 2013.