Clearly believing that the best defense is a good offense, logging giant Boise Cascade and its right-wing allies have launched a coordinated assault on Rainforest Action Network’s funding and reputation. RAN initiated a high-profile campaign last fall to pressure Boise Cascade to stop logging old-growth forests and to implement sustainable forest-management practices.
Although public opinion runs strongly against continued destruction of the dwindling old-growth stands, Boise Cascade remains undeterred. The company logs old-growth on public lands, and, according to RAN, is one of the largest purchasers of old-growth timber from national forests. Boise Cascade also was the leading industry opponent of the Forest Service rule that would have preserved 58.5 million acres of wilderness by banning new road construction.
The anti-RAN campaign has included letters to the group’s individual and foundation donors from Boise Cascade that brand RAN as “reckless, lawless radical activists lashing out against modern society.” At the same time, Frontiers of Freedom, a right-wing think tank founded by former U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyoming), is attacking RAN’s charitable tax status. And an anti-RAN Web site (ranamuck.org) published by Ron Arnold of the wise-use Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDFE), accuses the group of “pursuing an anti-capitalist ‘social change’ agenda to disempower every kind of business and industry that supports the modern world.”
Boise Cascade, Frontiers of Freedom and CDFE all accuse RAN of having links to the Earth Liberation Front, a radical monkeywrenching group. ELF claimed responsibility for burning down Boise Cascade’s Monmouth, Oregon office in December 1999. RAN, however, explicitly disavows property destruction and violence. “We think it’s a smear campaign, pure and simple,” says RAN campaign director Michael Brune. “Boise Cascade is quite defensive and becoming desperate to defend the status quo, so they need to resort to dirty tricks to discredit their accusers.”
Besides meeting with Boise Cascade executives, RAN’s tactics have included a public information campaign and nonviolent civil disobedience. On March 29, a couple of RAN activists dropped a banner declaring “Boise Cascade: An American Disgrace” across the street from the corporation’s Boise, Idaho headquarters. Supporters of RAN also protested outside the Boise Cascade Office Products building in the Chicago suburb of Itasca on July 25. Twenty people – including singer Bonnie Raitt, activist Julia Butterfly Hill and former Doors drummer John Densmore – were arrested for trespassing.
RAN’s civil disobedience is cited in a June 18 letter from Frontiers of Freedom director George Landrith to the Internal Revenue Service. In an effort reminiscent of the Reagan-era “defund the left” campaign and Richard Nixon’s use of the IRS against his political enemies, Frontiers of Freedom calls on the IRS to investigate RAN and revoke its 501©3 nonprofit tax status. Under U.S. tax law, such nonprofits are exempt from corporate income tax and eligible to solicit tax-deductible contributions. In return, they accept strict limitations on legislative lobbying and are prohibited from participating in elections.
“No one should think for a moment that this is anything other than an attempt to put RAN out of business,” says Jim Wheaton, founder and senior counsel for First Amendment Project, which is providing legal support to the group. He notes that loss of 501©3 status would severely curtail RAN’s ability to secure foundation grants. A Frontiers of Freedom press release describes their RAN complaint as a “test case.” If successful, the strategy could be applied against other “radical environmental groups that are skirting our nation’s tax laws.” “It’s really pretty simple,” says Frontiers of Freedom spokesman Jason Wright. “If you take taxpayer dollars, you ought not to get involved in controversial issues.”
Nonsense, says John Simon, who teaches nonprofit tax law at Yale University: “Merely the fact that you are attacking the policies of corporations or any other institutions in our society – government, foundations, newspapers, whatever – is not a ground for disqualification.” Boise Cascade spokesman Michael Moser denies the company is part of a coordinated offensive to shut down RAN, although he does acknowledge that the company sent letters denouncing RAN to the group’s funders.
If the IRS chooses to investigate the tax complaint, the process is closed. RAN may only participate by responding to IRS requests for information. RAN Executive Director Chris Hatch describes it as “having a sword hanging over us for the indefinite future.”
Still, Hatch says the anti-RAN campaign will not cause the group
to back off. “It has reinforced our commitment to civil disobedience
when it’s appropriate,” Hatch says. “Should there be civil disobedience,
and does the destruction of the forests warrant civil disobedience?
We quite openly say yes, and we support folks who want to
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