On Thursday, March 24th, I received an email from an “investigative journalist” from Thomson Reuters that began as follows:
I was reaching out to ask for comment regarding a piece my colleagues and I are working on regarding conduct, that you as president of International Organisation for the Family, have engaged in that could be classified as overt political campaigning/electioneering under U.S charity tax law.
Clearly, the reporter—her name is Ayo Awokoya—and her colleagues have pre-determined that the International Organization for the Family (IOF), which is the publisher of iFamNews and for which I serve as President, has engaged in prohibited activities. This is, however, false; and in order to preempt these scurrilous and baseless charges, I am publishing here my response to Ms. Awokoya. I am also publishing her email to me in full below, in the name of transparency.
Here, then, is the response I sent to this reporter:
You’re not serious are you?
Using the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center as a source? Have you researched their offshore accounts and funding?
We proudly believe in the natural family. Our positions are clear and public and you can learn more at our website www.profam.org.
IOF has not endorsed or opposed candidates. We know the law well, but it appears you do not. I suggest that you have someone familiar with tax law vet your work.
501 (c) 3s leaders, employees, and their board members and employees do not lose their first amendment free speech rights just because of their work for a 501 (c) 3. None of the examples you provide are evidence of prohibited electioneering that was done by IOF. None.
I can have my picture taken with whomever I please. I talk about my friends on my Twitter or Instagram account. None of this breaks any rules on electioneering.
I can also endorse and support any candidates I choose in a personal capacity.
In the case of Georgia, your facts are incorrect. ERI was not registered as a political party but as a social movement.
I also head up a 501 (c) 4 organization and a political action committee, so I am very much allowed to be involved in elections through the PAC and, to a lesser degree, through the 501 c4, when those activities are sponsored by those organizations.
Those organizations are separate from IOF.
We know the law well, and follow it.
Looking forward to your hit-piece.
This piece from Reuters, whenever it is published, will doubtless be nothing more than a hit piece aimed at undermining IOF’s work globally. But I take this as a good sign, and indeed a compliment. It is clear that the media elites and Leftists are alarmed by the successes we have had in growing and equipping a worldwide pro-family movement. I look forward to the piece’s publication, and—far from shying away from it—I will be sharing it widely as a testament to the effectiveness and impact of our work.
Here is the original email request from Ms. Awokoya:
Dear Brian Brown,
I hope this email reaches you well.
I’m an investigative reporter for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. I was reaching out to ask for comment regarding a piece my colleagues and I are working on regarding conduct, that you as president of International Organisation for the Family, have engaged in that could be classified as overt political campaigning/electioneering under U.S charity tax law.
Please could either you or a representative of your organisation respond to the following questions:
- Several human rights focused groups and non-profits such as Human Rights Campaign, Southern Poverty Law Center, Political Research Associates and the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights have accused the World Congress of Families/International Organisation for the Family, of being a front for anti-LGBTQI and anti-abortion views. How do you respond?
- Has the International Organisation for the Family, ever been subject to any investigations or warnings by the IRS for violating any 501 (c) (3) regulations? Is the WCF aware that as a 501 (c) (3) organization, it is “prohibited from directly or indirectly” involving itself in any political campaign? Does the International Organisation for the Family, consider that any of its actions or those of its head are in violation of political campaigning as defined by IRS Publication 1828 (Rev.8-2015), page 4, including but not limited to expressing approval or disapproval of candidates at a time close to the election?
- We have found 10 examples of International Organisation for the Family president Brian Brown making statements of support for anti-LGBTQI politicians and political parties based in eight countries in ways that could be classified as electioneering given that they were during election cycles and due to other contextual factors. Below are examples of five of the eight countries:
- On the 24th February 2017, Mr Brown posted a statement on Twitter claiming he was in Belgrade, Serbia with an accompanying photo of Dveri leader, Boško Obradović saying: “My friend, Serbian Presidential candidate and pro-family leader Boško Obradović of Dveri and Alexey Komov of Russia in Belgrade.” Was Mr. Brown aware that this photograph was posted during an election cycle and that Obradović had begun his campaign a month prior to Mr. Brown appearing in this photograph? Does Mr. Brown consider this to be electioneering? Has any US authority ever contacted Mr. Brown about this incident? Does Mr Brown, in his capacity as President of the International Organisation for the Family, think this post supports or shows favour to Mr Obradović?
- On December 13, 2018 Brown posted a photo on Twitter with Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy, where he said the following: “Great meeting with pro-family leader of Fratelli d’Italia Party and member of Italian Parliament, Giorgia Meloni http://giorgiameloni.com. Looking forward to her participation in World Congress of Families, Verona. Join us at http://wcfverona.org #wcfverona”. Was Mr. Brown aware that this photograph was posted a month after Meloni’s party agreed to join the European Conservatives and Reformists Party in the run up to the 2019 European Parliament election in Italy? Does Mr. Brown consider this to be electioneering? Has any US authority ever contacted Mr. Brown about this incident? Does Mr Brown, in his capacity as President of the International Organisation of Family, think this post supports or shows favour to Ms Meloni?
- On Dec 18, 2019, Brown posted a photo on Instagram, saying the following: “Great to be at #WhiteHouse with other #Catholic leaders to hear from #Trump administration leaders like Chief of Staff Mulvaney at #faithbriefing. President Trump has put together an amazing team and probably done more than any other President to advance #life and #religiousliberty. I know that some were skeptical in 2016 about how much #Trump would advance the cause (including me) but he has proven himself big-time. With #Democrats pushing #InequalityAct and other evils that would destroy basic freedom of our Church it is critical #Catholics understand what is at stake and how much Trump has done to advance our causes. Also pretty impressive that for the first time there is now a weekly Mass in the White House.” Was Mr. Brown aware that this photograph was posted as the US was gearing up for its presidential election? Does Mr. Brown, in his capacity as President of the International Organisation of Family, consider this to be electioneering? Has any US authority ever contacted Mr. Brown about this incident? Does Mr Brown think this post supports or shows favour to Mr Trump
- On March 4, 2019 Brown had posted a statement on Facebook and Twitter saying the following: “It’s an honor to be speaking in Kyiv, Ukraine at the All-Ukrainian Family Forum. Completely packed event to celebrate the family in Ukraine. President of Ukraine as well as top religious leaders all spoke. Thanks to leadership of my new friend MP Pavel Unguryan! #profamily”. Was Mr. Brown aware he was speaking at a political event during an election cycle? Was Mr Brown aware that this photograph was posted during the Ukrainian presidential election campaign? Does Mr. Brown consider this to be electioneering? Has any US authority ever contacted Mr. Brown about this incident? Does Mr Brown, in his capacity as President of the International Organisation of Family, think this post supports or shows favour to Mr Unguryan?
- On June 16, 2021 Mr Brown said the following during a press conference (that was published on the organisation official Youtube account) with Levan Vasadze to support the launch of his political party, Unity, Essence, Hope (ERI): “I look forward to the next steps in this adventure of being a friend of Levan Vasadze, and doing everything I can in America and the world to support ERI and Levan.” Was Mr Brown, in his capacity as president of the International Organisation of Family, aware that he making statement of political support for Mr Vasadze? Was Mr. Brown aware that Georgian local elections were taking place just four months later? Does Mr. Brown consider this to be electioneering? Has any US authority ever contacted Mr. Brown about this incident?
More generally, would you care to comment on the nature of Mr Brown’ activity regarding the guidelines outlined by the 1RS on political campaigning for 501 c (3) organisations?
I hope to hear from you soon,