By Robert Haugh
City Council candidate Raj Chahal posted a video on Facebook that’s a big no-no.
Two members of the Sister Cities Youth Commission talk about Chahal in the video that lasts under 2 minutes. Chahal is a board member of the Sister Cities Commission.
It’s clearly a pitch to vote for him. In fact, there’s type on the screen during the entire video that says: “Vote Raj Chahal for SC District 2.”
The problem is that the Commission is a 501c3 and can’t be engaged in political activity. Here’s what the Council of Nonprofits says:
In return for its favored tax-status, a charitable nonprofit promises the federal government that it will not engage in “political campaign activity” and if it does, IRS regulations mandate that the charitable nonprofit will lose its tax-exempt status. This prohibition against political campaign activity (defined as “supporting or opposing a candidate for public office”) is SEPARATE from lobbying or legislative activities, which charitable nonprofits ARE permitted to engage in, although knowing the rules is important, as limitations apply.
The Chahal campaign video has been up for more than a week on Facebook.
It may have been an honest mistake. And no one is blaming the youth commissioners.
But here’s what’s interesting: three current or former Commissioners contacted Chahal about a week ago and told him it was wrong. Chahal was told that he was jeopardizing the Commission’s nonprofit status. But Chahal ignored them. As of our deadline, the video was still available on Facebook.
An elected official also tried to contact Chahal to ask him to take down the video. But he did not respond. He has not responded to our emails either.
The concern is apparently serious enough that one person close to the Commission has contacted an attorney. They’re trying to figure out how to protect the non-profit status, including suing Chahal if necessary.
We’ll follow this story as it develops.
Update: Chahal removed the video from his campaign page — and we edited the headline to reflect that Mr. Chahal did not create the video. We’ve given Chahal an opportunity to express his opinion on this subject in an op/ed for this site. He has not submitted one yet.