Tobacco-Free St. Louis Faces IRS Complaint Over Lobbying, Campaign Contribution

Jim Pepper is complaining to the IRS that an anti-smoking agency has crossed the line.
Jim Pepper is complaining to the IRS that an anti-smoking agency has crossed the line.
O'Fallon Councilman Jim Pepper has followed through on his threat to complain to the IRS about the political work of Tobacco-Free St. Louis.

Pepper yesterday filed a complaint with the IRS, charging that the non-profit organization, organized as a 501(c)3, is both engaged in excessive lobbying and involved with a political campaign. 501(c)3 organizations are only permitted to do an insubstantial amount of lobbying -- a maximum of twenty percent of annual expenditures for small non-profits like Tobacco-Free St. Louis -- or risk losing their non-profit status.

As Daily RFT first reported March 8, Tobacco-Free St. Louis recently received a county contract (paid for by federal stimulus dollars, natch!) worth $545,000. The group was charged with "developing and implementing an education and advocacy plan to educate St. Louis County Council members about the need to remove exemptions from St. Louis County's current smoke-free ordinance."
That sounded an awful lot like lobbying to us. But the group's director, Pat Lindsey, has insisted to us that's not the case. The exemptions to the county smoking ban are on the way out anyway, she told us -- her group hasn't lobbied, and no lobbying be needed.

You can read her remarks in this blog post.

Pepper saw our article; he told Daily RFT he was also concerned because the group donated money to the campaign to enact a strict smoking ban in O'Fallon. Voters approved that ban on Tuesday, although Pepper has vowed to do whatever he can on the council to weaken it, water it down or otherwise castrate it.

We'll have more on this story as it develops, so stay tuned.

About The Author

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske is the executive editor of Euclid Media Group, overseeing publications in eight cities. She is the former host of St. Louis on the Air and was previously editor-in-chief of the RFT and the LA Weekly. She lives in St. Louis.
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