LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Thoughts on Hirono Video and 501(c) Tax Status

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Editor:

As an attendee of the JANM sponsored program, Day of Remembrance, I was surprised to learn that Sen. Mazie Hirono, who was invited to be the guest speaker could not attend, and instead, she sent a video which was deleted from the program. Because of the controversy caused by the deletion of the video from the program, it was necessary for Norman Mineta, chair of JANM Board of Trustees, to write a response/statement defending the museum’s decision.

Mineta stated that the museum had the video removed from the program because JANM cannot take a partisan position.  He also stated that “we were also made aware that the inclusion of the video might have resulted in one of our sister organizations that participated in the organizing committee having to withdraw, which was not an outcome that we wanted to see.” He also suggested that by taking “an overtly partisan position” may affect JANM’s ability to receive federal funding.

To understand what Mineta was referring to concerning the possibility of losing federal funding, one of the multiple sources used by museums to secure funds, museums are generally non-profit and tax-exempt. They are classified by the IRS as 501(c)3 organizations. Under that classification, organizations cannot participate in political campaigns, make contributions to, or make public statements for or against any candidate for public office. Any such organization violating the political campaign prohibition will have its tax-exempt classification revoked. That is, it can continue operating as a museum but it will have to either re-apply to have its revoke status overturned or pay taxes on its income.

I cannot speak to JANM’s concern about a participating organization’s withdrawal, but it is the opinion of this attendee that JANM misinterpreted the political campaign restrictions since they apply only to administrative staff and employees and not individuals who are disconnected from the JANM’s organization. That is, JANM’s administrative staff and employees cannot on behalf of JANM participate in political campaigns or make public statements for or against any political candidate.

In this case, the senator was invited as a guest speaker and was not a representative of JANM, to speak about the underlying theme of the Day of Remembrance, which she covered and paralleled with the current Trump Administration’s executive orders of unfairness towards asylum-seeking immigrants and Muslims. As I recall, her statements in the video discussed the federal government’s historical injustices taken against Japanese Americans during WW ll, based simply because of their race and their mirror image of the enemy, which was now being repeated against asylum seekers from Central America and Muslims.

That said, it would be in JANM’s interest to become knowledgeable and familiar with the political campaign restrictions of a 501(c)3 organization instead of summarily dismissing a video of the only Japanese American senator, and a woman, who chose not to remain silent and is at the forefront of opposing the racist immigration policies of this Republican president.

Larry Naritomi, Monterey Park

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