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Secret Society

Just who is the Council for National Policy, and why isn't it paying taxes?
 
 
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On April 29, 1992, Tom DeLay stood up on the House floor and decried a "tax-funded boondoggle" that sent freshman members of Congress to Harvard for a seminar. "Yes," DeLay asserted, "the congressional freshman orientation at Harvard doesn't cost millions of dollars. But even the thousands of dollars of tax money used for this congressional boondoggle sets a bad example for new Members of Congress." Instead, DeLay urged, "grassroots organizations" should conduct orientations at no cost to the American taxpayer. The organizations DeLay named were the Coalition for America, the Council for National Policy, Free Congress, and Free the Eagle, all radical conservative groups with ties to the right-wing Christian evangelical movement. As DeLay spoke, the Council for National Policy (CNP) was in a fight with the IRS over a tax-funded boondoggle of its own, a fight in which CNP ultimately would emerge the victor.

Most Americans – even many self-professed political junkies – probably have never heard of CNP or would confuse it with countless other groups with similarly unremarkable names (including the Center for National Policy, a liberal group). But conservative activists would know what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has referred to as "the heart of a great conservative movement that helped to make America strong and prosperous in the 20th century – and is now helping to ensure she remains free and secure in the 21st century," or what Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence has called "the most influential gathering of conservatives in America." But because CNP has been so successful at maintaining its secrecy – flouting the law for more than two decades – it has managed to obscure the depth of its reach in conservative political organizations, political fundraising, the conservative media, and even the Bush administration itself.

Who Is Behind CNP?

While the law does not require a tax-exempt organization to disclose the names of its members (in order to protect their ability to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of association privately, if they choose), it does require disclosure of the officers and directors of these organizations, and this information is available to anyone with access to the internet. And some CNP members, often in the context of bolstering their conservative credentials, have proudly revealed their CNP membership, even though CNP's policy is to keep membership a secret.

CNP was founded in 1981 by Tim LaHaye, the right-wing, evangelical political motivator and author of the Left Behind serial, which chronicles a fictional Armageddon and second coming (in which the non-believers are left behind while believers are carried off in a rapturous moment without their clothes. It gives an eerie ring to the No Child Left Behind Act). LaHaye's empire includes his fingerprints on a number of evangelically-oriented, right-wing political action groups, his wife Beverly's Concerned Women for America, along with the twelve Left Behind novels, which, according to the author's own web site, have sold 55 million copies worldwide since their introduction in 1995. The original directors, as listed with CNP's articles of incorporation filed with the Texas Secretary of State in 1981 were, along with LaHaye, Howard Phillips, a long-time conservative activist with plenty of conservative groups under his wing, and Bob J. Perry, a Texas businessman who has long donated vast amounts of money to conservative causes, including the tort reform effort in Texas. Last year, Perry gave over $8 million to conservative 527 groups, including $4.5 million to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and $3 million to the Progress for America Voter Fund, which spent over $35 million running pro-Bush and anti-Kerry ads during the campaign and is now backing Bush's Social Security privatization.

Today, CNP's board and roster of known members is a who's who of the radical right, and a sampling includes former Reagan cabinet member Donald Hodel, also president of James Dobson's Focus on the Family; Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner, who has served on CNP's board, as have Grover Norquist, president of the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform and Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation; Holly Coors; T. Kenneth Cribb, president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute; and Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Council, which provides a media network through which it disseminates radical conservative ideology and propaganda.

CNP's tentacles also reach into a community of well-connected activists who advocate for the imposition of fundamentalist Christian ideology in public life and have succeeded in forcing their agenda in the Bush administration. Besides the well-known affiliation of Dobson and Hodel, just one example is the Home School Legal Defense Association, which has paid CNP dues so that Michael Farris, its executive director, could attend the meetings. Farris has since also become president of Patrick Henry College (PHC), founded in 2000 for home-schooled students. PHC aims to "prepare Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding" and "to aid in the transformation of American society by training Christian students to serve God and mankind with a passion for righteousness, justice and mercy, through careers of public service and cultural influence." Janet Ashcroft, the former attorney general's wife, and Barbara Hodel, Hodel's wife, also serve on PHC's Board of Trustees. PHC's academic dean, Paul Bonicelli, was appointed by Bush to a private U.N. delegation to promote biblical values in U.S. foreign policy. Farris, along with Hodel and Dobson, were on hand with Bush at the signing ceremony of the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban. PHC students have gone on to work for Karl Rove and for the White House Office of Public Liaison, and students and faculty are frequently invited to be on hand for White House and inaugural events. The fact that the school's choir sang at a CNP meeting – when the meetings and membership are a closely guarded secret – testifies to the ties between the school and CNP.

CNP's Tax Exemption: A History of Broken Promises

The benefits of tax-exempt status are considerable to both an organization's supporters and the organization itself: contributions are deductible from an individual's taxable income, and the organization pays no federal income tax. In order to maintain tax-exempt status, these organizations must make educational materials available, by providing instruction or training by way of discussion groups, forums, panels or lectures that are open to the public. The instruction may be made through media such as radio, television or the internet.

The IRS, which had granted CNP permission to operate as a tax-exempt educational organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code in 1981, revoked CNP's tax exemption in early 1992. CNP then sued the IRS in the United States Tax Court to gain reinstatement of its tax-exempt status. Shortly before the 1992 presidential election, the IRS settled the case with CNP and gave it back its tax shelter. Since that time, however, CNP has changed nothing about its operations. But the IRS has continued to give it a free ride.

CNP operated since its inception – and continues to operate today – in direct contravention of these legal requirements. CNP's membership is by invitation only. Unlike most other tax-exempt educational organizations, an ordinary person cannot just write a check and join, attend a forum, or purchase a publication. Its meetings – which consist of speeches, panel discussions, workshops and meals – are open only to members and special invited guests. CNP prohibits attendees from discussing the content of meetings publicly. The media are prohibited from attending. CNP does not disseminate any written materials to non-members. In other words, you won't see one of its meetings televised, and you can't order a book, journal or pamphlet from CNP. The IRS cited all these reasons when it revoked CNP's tax-exempt status in 1992.

CNP is not merely excluding outsiders from neighborhood bridge games. The prominence and power of its members – and their political clout within the Bush administration – require, more urgently, the openness of its activities. But CNP has laughed in the face of the IRS and the American public's right to know for more than 20 years, a period during which the radical right has aimed – and largely succeeded – in hijacking the Republican Party.

When CNP first applied to the IRS for tax-exempt status, it promised that it would provide educational opportunities for its members and "issue publications." But CNP artfully phrased the language regarding membership qualifications; instead of saying, as is the case, that membership was by invitation only for committed conservatives, CNP told the IRS that "[m]embers must be elected by the Executive Committee. There are no fixed qualifications."

During the application process, the IRS specifically pressed CNP for evidence it would educate the public. In response, CNP produced a copy of Foreign Affairs , the quarterly publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, on which CNP claimed to model itself. (The Council on Foreign Relations, also a tax-exempt educational organization, operates transparently and produces many educational items for the use of the general public. And although CNP claimed to model itself on the Council on Foreign Relations, at its founding CNP considered itself a conservative antidote to what it decried as the "liberalism" of the Council on Foreign Relations.) CNP told the IRS that Foreign Affairs is "an example of the type of publication we are likely to issue forth within the next year or so. Most publications will probably go only to members. However a quarterly scholarly journal would be widely distributed to libraries and the general public." CNP has never produced such a quarterly scholarly journal.

In fact, the absence of the quarterly journal, or any other materials for the use of the general public, was the main argument the IRS made in revoking CNP's tax-exempt status eleven years later, in January 1992. The IRS focused on the fact that CNP's primary activity was hosting meetings for its members, who could join only if invited by the Executive Committee, at luxury resorts, where they (and in some cases their families) ate gourmet meals and had access to all the recreational amenities the resorts had to offer. And because CNP's principal activity was organizing these membership meetings, and not presenting discussion groups, forums, panels, lectures or other programs that the public could attend or view through television, print or other media, the IRS determined that CNP was serving a private, not a public, interest and was not entitled to tax exempt status.

Two weeks after DeLay made his pitch on the House floor (perhaps in a vain effort to portray CNP as an organization that did indeed educate the public), CNP sued the IRS in the United States Tax Court to have its tax-exempt status reinstated. The case was scheduled for trial in May 1993. But on Oct. 15, 1992, when the presidential campaign between then-President George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton was drawing to a close, the tax court judge entered an order reinstating CNP's tax exempt status. According to the judge's order, CNP had filed a new application for tax-exempt status in February 1992, which the IRS granted in August 1992. (The IRS releases the tax-exempt applications, known as the Form 1023, without a Freedom of Information Act request. The IRS makes CNP's 1981 Form 1023 available, but an IRS agent at the agency's public records center said that a Form 1023 CNP filed in February 1992 does not exist. The agent, who did not have specific knowledge of the CNP case, said that in litigation, the organization and the IRS often agree to changes in the organization's operations that lead the IRS to reinstate the organization's tax-exempt status without another application. The agent said in such cases the IRS typically does not require the organization to file another application because it would be an "undue burden.")

CNP's Activities Since Reinstatement of Its Tax-Exempt Status

One might have expected then, that CNP and the IRS had agreed to a change in operations that would have lent legitimacy to CNP's tax-free ride. But in the 12 years since the dispute went away, CNP has changed virtually nothing about its operations. It has no quarterly journal or any other publication that is distributed to the general public. It has no web site. Its meetings are still closed, and are still held at exclusive hotels and resorts. Its members are still forbidden from talking to the press or the public about what happens at meetings, as are invited guests, including representatives of foreign governments. From both the secrecy and the scant information that is available about CNP's activities, it is clear that no significant changes have been implemented since 1992.

Years after its tax-exempt status was restored, CNP purchased the domain names cfnp.org and cfnp.com (neither of which have any content) and put up a web site of its supposed journal, Policy Counsel . The web site is the "biannual journal of the Council for National Policy." The "journal" consists of selected speeches from CNP meetings, and lately have included "Fighting the Domestic War," by Marvin Olasky (the architect of George W. Bush's 2000 campaign pabulum "compassionate conservatism"), in which he advocated the "overthrow" of the National Education Association "regime," a group that he described as "an unelected group that demands allegiance to a central atheistic uniformity." The speech took place after Secretary of Education Rod Paige's characterization of the NEA as a "terrorist organization;" Olasky said the NEA wasn't a terrorist organization but it was "terrifying." Another speech was "Campaign Finance Reform," by NRA President Wayne LaPierre, in which he complained that the McCain-Feingold restriction on mentioning a candidate's name within 60 days of an election infringed on the NRA's free speech rights. He further complained that the NRA would have trouble raising money for a PAC, which was the only way around the restriction. (The NRA Political Victory Fund raised over $12 million in 2003-04, ranking it 8th among all PACs in receipts, and it was the 10th top PAC in total independent expenditures in the 2004 election cycle, a figure that includes advertising that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a specific candidate.)

While one might conclude that policycounsel.org represents CNP's effort to produce a scholarly journal along the lines of Foreign Affairs , one would be forced to conclude otherwise – if not based on its flimsy content – based on its inaccessibility. First, the site is constructed in such a way that search engines do not find it if you search for, say, "Council for National Policy." You would find it if you searched "policy counsel" but not if you searched "'policy counsel' and 'council for national policy,'" on Google. (You would find a web site, not affiliated with CNP, at which you can supposedly purchase a subscription to Policy Counsel for 20 dollars a year, compared to the cover price of zero dollars.) You similarly would not find the site if you Googled Steve Baldwin, CNP's executive director, whose name is on the Policy Counsel web site. In other words, you would have to know that CNP's journal was called Policy Counsel , but CNP hardly publicizes that fact, and it takes considerable investigation to track it down. Even though CNP owns the domain names cfnp.org and cfnp.com, it has no content on those sites, not even a link to policycounsel.org. In response to an e-mail request, a CNP staffer responded that "the current Policy Counsel Journals are no longer available in print."

Moreover, none of the many organizations with which CNP directors and members are affiliated link to policycounsel.org, including Americans for Tax Reform; the Free Congress Foundation; the Heritage Foundation; the Media Research Center; and The Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty. (The Patrick Henry Center was formed in 1998 by former FBI agent and Clinton antagonist Gary Aldrich; its board of directors is filled with current and former CNP Directors: former Attorney General Edwin Meese, Iran-contra figure Oliver North, former Louisiana State Rep. Woody Jenkins; Minnesota businessman and education activist John Scribante; Weyrich; Phillips; and Alan Dye, a lawyer who represented CNP its Tax Court litigation.)

In other words, not only does CNP make no effort to distribute its "journal," it makes a concerted effort to hide it.

Where Are the Media?

Probably the most-talked about CNP speech that both the organization and the speaker refused to make public was George W. Bush's speech to a CNP meeting in 1999, when he was first running for president. The internet is rife with speculation about what Bush said – or promised – at this meeting. But Bush the candidate refused to release the text of the speech, citing CNP's own internal policy of closed meetings. And the CNP, of course, refused to release it for the same reasons.

There was a small flurry of media coverage of candidate Bush's refusal to release his speech, but it soon died down and CNP slipped into hiding again. Since then, only two major news outlets have published stories devoted entirely to CNP, and while both discussed the organization's secrecy, neither questioned the propriety of it. In May 2002, ABC News ran a piece on their web site called, "Inside The Council for National Policy: Meet the Most Powerful Conservative Group You've Never Heard Of," which outed some high-level BushaAdministration officials as speakers at a meeting at a "ritzy hotel" in Tysons Corner, Va. The article did not question whether it was acceptable in a democracy – not to mention legal – for a Supreme Court Justice (Clarence Thomas), White House counsel (Alberto Gonzales) and close Bush advisor (deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison Timothy Goeglein, himself an evangelical Christian who has said that Bush is "God's man,") to give secret speeches or have secret meetings with a secret organization subsidized by the American taxpayer.

At the time of the 2004 Republican National Convention, the The New York Times ran a brief story on CNP's meeting in New York, described as "'a pep rally' to re-elect President Bush," buried on page 10 of a Saturday paper. The article disclosed some high-level attendees, including Undersecretary of State John Bolton, Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and revealed, well after the fact and for the first time in the American press, that Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had attended a meeting "not long after the Iraq invasion." The article did virtually nothing to add to the public discussion of CNP's activities or to question its tax-exempt status.

And while the mainstream media is asleep at the switch, CNP members' access to conservative media outlets enable them to collaborate and disseminate their propaganda. One example is Bozell and the Media Research Center, the mission of which is "to provide the conservative movement with the marketing and public relations tools necessary to deliver its message into the 21st century." Another example is that five directors of Salem Communications Company are or have been officers and directors of CNP: Salem's president and CEO, Edward G. Atsinger, III; Stuart W. Epperson (host of Truth Talk Live , a radio show broadcast on Salem's radio network); Roland S. Hinz (who is also president of Hi-Favor Communications, which has purchased radio stations from Salem to implement a Christian format in Spanish); Hodel; and Judge Paul Pressler (a retired Texas judge who has made a career of advocating a conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention). Salem owns over 100 Christian broadcast radio stations, is the provider of Christian programming on XM Satellite Radio, and recently agreed with America Online to provide the only Christian talk radio station on the AOL Radio Network. Last year, Salem was ranked in the top 100 in Fortune Small Business magazine's list of fastest growing small public companies. Salem is the seventh largest owner of radio stations in the country, and while it barely rivals Clear Channel at over 1,200 stations, the combined Christian broadcasting power of Salem and American Family Radio – a project of the American Family Association – would rank them fourth, just behind powerhouses Clear Channel, Cumulus, and Citadel. Many Republican House and Senate candidates, as well as the Bush/Cheney campaign, the Republican National Committee, and the Republican Majority Issues Committee, the issue advertising committee formed by DeLay, have been the beneficiaries of not only Atsinger's largesse, but that of Salem Communications' political action committee as well.

How the Conservative Media "Covers" CNP

Members of the conservative media – many of whom have CNP ties – have on occasion reported on CNP meetings and suggested a CNP hand in shaping Administration policy. In May 2001, World magazine, which is edited by Olasky, reported on its web site that CNP, "a confidential network of several hundred highly influential conservative business leaders," received "lavish attention from the White House" at its twentieth anniversary conference. World reported that CNP's "elite Gold Circle Club met May 3 at the White House with chief strategist Karl Rove and President Bush," that Attorney General John Ashcroft spoke at a "private Gold Circle dinner," and that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke to the entire group. Records of White House staff whose sole function is to advise and assist the president are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, but a speech given to an organization that essentially receives public funding is not a "government record." It is a document that the public is entitled to see and would see if the IRS were doing its job. Similarly, records of federal courts are not subject to FOIA, but all the Supreme Court justices, except Scalia and Thomas, have posted their speeches on the Supreme Court we bsite. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Department of Justice said that "a written speech was not prepared for the Attorney General to deliver to the Gold Circle Club dinner in May 2001, because the Council had asked the Attorney General to participate in dinner conversation only and had not requested any formal remarks from him."

Around the same time ABC published its piece on the CNP meeting, in May 2002, the conservative press filled in some additional details. At that CNP meeting, which took place ten months before the U.S. invaded Iraq, a writer for the ultraconservative NewsMax participated on a CNP panel about the war on terrorism. ( NewsMax's president and editor is Christopher Ruddy, who formerly wrote for Rupert Murdoch's New York Post and Richard Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and is the author of the conspiracy-mongering The Strange Death of Vincent Foster .) The writer, Dr. Alexandr Nemets, reported that among the 500 "prominent" attendees, "several high-ranking officials in the Bush administration made speeches and participated in panel discussions." He reported a complete uniformity of judgment – at a meeting attended by Bush administration officials when the Bush administration would still pretend for several months to try diplomacy – that Saddam needed to be deposed with military force. According to Nemets, everyone at the meeting agreed that:

Saddam's regime should be toppled as soon as possible ... America should not wait for the fall of Saddam's regime ... [which is] organized exactly along the lines of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party that ruled Germany in 1933-45. Saddam's regime – just like Hitler's – won't implode due to internal problems. ... At the same time, America, in its strikes against Iraq, will not be the aggressor but the leader and the united force of all the opposition groups inside Iraq – the Kurds, Shia minority, etc. This will greatly facilitate the military operations against Saddam.

Nemets further reported that the attendees had ruled out military action against the other members of the axis of evil, Iran and North Korea.

One year later, about two weeks after Saddam fell, both Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke at the CNP meeting in Washington. The attendance of the vice president and secretary of defense (during a war) was not reported at all by the American media, but was reported by several papers in Alberta, because the Albertan Economic Development Minister Mark Norris attended the meeting. (Norris, through a spokesman, claimed that a copy of Norris's remarks at the meeting was "not available.") The purpose of Norris’ trip, as reported in the Calgary Herald , was to "meet with a secretive and influential right-wing think-tank in a bid to mend fences over Canada's refusal to join the war in Iraq, and help Alberta companies win rebuilding contracts." But, according to a Ministry of Economic Development press release, Norris was there also to promote Alberta's oil production from its oil sands and to encourage trade with the United States. (In 1998, when Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, Inc., its Brown & Root subsidiary won a $160 million contract from a Canadian company, Syncrude Canada Ltd., that was extracting oil from the Albertan oil sands.) But Cheney's and Rumsfeld's attendance managed to stay under the radar screen of the American media.

Somehow, however, CNP's long-standing secrecy policy managed to slip by a Defense Department freedom of information official, and the Pentagon released Rumsfeld's speech under the Freedom of Information Act. The speech was a thank you for CNP's Thomas Jefferson Award for Servant Leadership. Rumsfeld was introduced by Hodel, who at the time was CNP's President. Rumsfeld gave a brief speech in which he likened the war in Iraq to the American Revolution, admitting that work remained to do to secure the peace there. He went so far in the analogy as to quote Thomas Jefferson as saying, shortly after the Revolution, that "'we are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed.'" Rumsfeld loved the Jefferson quote and recycled it in numerous speeches, all available on the internet. He repeated it in a May 27, 2003 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal , and in a speech to – ironically – the Council on Foreign Relations that same day, a July 4, 2003 speech at the Pentagon, and even in a May 17, 2004 speech at the Heritage Foundation in which he also discussed Abu Ghraib, where prisoners could not even expect a chair, much less a bed of any kind. One notable difference in the CNP speech was the bone Rumsfeld threw to the group whose members' bedrock belief is that America is a Christian nation, when he said that "Jefferson and the founders firmly believed that ours was a nation set here by Providence to serve as a beacon of freedom for the world."

Other conservative elected officials continue to speak at CNP meetings and go unnoticed by the media. Congressman Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who recently was named a "Hero of the Taxpayer" by Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-government group led by Grover Norquist, who has for years served on CNP's board of directors, was the keynote speaker at CNP's March 2004 meeting in San Diego. Pence posted his speech on his web site in March, but currently only has a press release about the speech. In the speech, Pence announced, "I am a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican – in that order ... I am deeply humbled to address CNP, the most influential gathering of conservatives in America!" The speech, which was filled with biblical references, contained thinly veiled hints that Bush ought to pay attention if he wanted to have the support of true conservatives come November. While he battered the president for expanding government and government spending, he hailed him for his stand on tax cuts, national defense, and same-sex marriage, concluding that "our cause" is "to stand with our captain as he leads us well, to right the ship in that where she is adrift, and to support his every effort to set her right." A few months later, at the Republican National Convention "pep rally," Jerry Falwell (whose speech is posted on policycounsel.org), threatened that Bush could not win without the vote of Christian conservatives, who might stay home on Election Day if the Republican candidate did not commit himself to their issues, including opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

That the Bush administration won't make its dealings with CNP public only reinforces a suspicion raised by the scant information that is available about CNP: that the administration (and candidate Bush in both 2000 and 2004) made promises to CNP that it wouldn't want more moderate voters to hear or that CNP exerts a pressure on the White House that it would rather keep secret.

What's Next on CNP's Agenda?

Most recently, Rush Limbaugh spoke at CNP's meeting last month, readying the troops for a battle on immigration reform. The conservative writer John Fund wrote several weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal about the potential for immigration to be a wedge issue for Republicans. Fund said that he spoke with Rush Limbaugh "backstage before he discussed immigration at a private meeting of 400 leading conservatives." ("A private meeting of 400 leading conservatives" is often code for CNP in the conservative press.) Limbaugh has the transcript and video of his CNP speech on his web site (available only to paying members of his "24/7 Club"). NewsMax later reported that in another speech, Limbaugh said that "the Republicans' failure to understand the American people's building rage on illegal immigration" could give rise to a third party anti-immigration candidate in 2008.

Could the radical right's strategy on the immigration issue have echoes of the anti-gay marriage movement? Certainly CNP had its hand in both pressuring Bush and other Republicans to endorse a federal amendment banning gay marriage and to activate supporters to oppose gay marriage at the grassroots level, using the threat to stay home on election day to push Bush on their radical agenda. Steve Baldwin, CNP's executive director, wrote a propagandist article in 2002 for the Regent University Law Review (Regent University is affiliated with Pat Robertson), titled " Child Molestation and the Homosexual Movement." CNP Action, a lobbying arm of CNP, was one of numerous groups which publicly thanked Bush for supporting a federal amendment banning gay marriage. It's not hard to imagine how Limbaugh's and other conservatives' current rantings on immigration could instigate a bigoted backlash similar to the one against gay marriage.

Tom DeLay was wrong that CNP's activities do not cost the taxpayers a dime. CNP and its members benefit twice from its tax-exempt status: its members can take a tax deduction for their (often hefty) membership dues, and CNP pays no federal income tax on its revenues. CNP even convinced the legislature of Virginia, where it now maintains its headquarters, to exempt it from paying sales tax on items purchased in the state. And considering that members pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual contributions (CNP insists that these are not membership "dues," but rather "contributions," a classification that allows its members to fully deduct the amount, since the portion of membership dues for which a member receives benefits and privileges are not deductible), its members are receiving a significant financial benefit at a cost to American taxpayers. In 2003, the last year for which CNP's tax filings are available, it received almost a million dollars in contributions, including donations from the foundations of some of the wealthiest Americans, such as the Coors and deVos families. Considering that CNP only has a few hundred members, they each are receiving a healthy tax advantage for their generous contributions. Certainly, to borrow from DeLay's comments, the cost to taxpayers is thousands, not millions of dollars. But more important than the financial cost is the cost to democracy.