Bill Restricts Broadcast Ads for Nonprofits

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The House has passed a bill that housing and nonprofit watchdog groups say discourages housing nonprofits from buying broadcast ads through affiliated groups, with "affiliation" defined so broadly as to discourage advocacy for housing issues.

According to the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, OMB Watch and others, the Federal Housing Finance Reform Act has been amended to restrict nonprofits' advocacy by disqualifying them from receiving money from the Affordable Housing Fund if they pay for, or are connected with a group that pays for, broadcast advertising or PSAs that mention federal candidates within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary.

While campaign finance reform laws already restrict pre-election advertising by nonprofits, the bill would make it harder to farm that out to a separate, legal lobby by disqualifying them if they were affiliated with any other group that paid for the ads.

Affiliation includes sharing office space, staff, directors, or providing 20% of the other's budget.

OMB Watch, which tracks nonprofit advocacy efforts, also says the prohibition on affiliation is contagious, which means that if a nonprofit funded A, B, C, and D, the funded groups would all be considered affiliated with one another.

OMB Watch calls it an "astonishingly sweeping" step that will "have a chilling effect on the free speech and association rights of nonprofit organizations protected by the First Amendment."

“The only conclusion to draw from this action is some members of the majority party are afraid of more low income people participating in elections,” said Sheila Crowley, President of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. "Rather than competing legitimately for the votes of low income people, this strategy falls back on discredited practices of the past to thwart voter participation. The tragedy is that so many Republicans who told their constituents that they were troubled by these provisions were unable to vote their consciences due to misplaced party loyalty.”

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