MINOT, N.D. — Various anti-pipeline groups raised tens of millions of dollars during the violent protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in southcentral North Dakota.
One of the groups which raised millions of that total is called the Freshet Collective. They told donors the money given would be used to pay the legal expenses of activists arrested during the protests.
It's hard to tell just how much, specifically, was donated to the group, but a total listed on the group's public account on the crowdfunding site Fundrazr is over $3 million.
The group also collected money through services like Paypal for which there isn't a publicly disclosed amount, so I would assume the total the group took in is significantly more than that.
Now a complaint has been filed with the IRS over Freshet Collective's fundraising activities.
The individual filing the complaint has chosen to be anonymous, checking a box on IRS Form 13909, which allows the filer to be anonymous if they fear "retaliation or retribution."
I obtained the document, which you can read in full below, from a source familiar with the situation.
The complaint alleges, among other problems, that Freshet Collective is delinquent in filing a Form 990 with the IRS.
The IRS describes that form as an "annual information return" required of nonprofit organizations. It contains broad information about a given organization's activities and finances.
These filings are publicly available. I was able to find a 990 filing for this group from 2016 via the IRS' online Tax Exempt Organization database. That filing shows the group took in over $3 million in donations for the year.
I wasn't able to find any subsequent filings.
The group's website isn't currently online. The last capture of it stored at internet history service Archive.org was from January 2019.
The principal officer listed for the group on its 2016 filing is Tara Houska of Duluth.
In a TED Speaker biography, Houska is listed as a former adviser to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Her LinkedIn profile lists her as a contributor to The Huffington Post, Indian Country Today, and until July of 2019 as a campaigns director for Honor the Earth, another anti-pipeline group based in Minnesota. That profile also states that Houska is the founder of the Giniw Collective.
That group's purpose, per its Facebook page, seems to be organizing opposition to Enbridge's Line 3 replacement project in Minnesota.
I attempted to contact Houska for comment at the phone number listed on the 990 form from 2016, but that number has been disconnected.
I also sent her an email message, and a direct message via Twitter, each of which has gone unanswered.
Back in 2017, with various groups and individuals having raised millions during the #NoDAPL protests, I spoke with North Dakota Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger about the tax implications.
"We have had many discussions within the department related to the potential for income tax liabilities associated with protest activity," he told me at the time, adding that, "it's a complicated topic with many hurdles."
"In summary, the issue with trying to tax the crowdfunding is the fact that 'gifts' are not considered taxable," he continued.
But my questions to him were mostly about the issue of individuals, or groups without nonprofit status, accepting donations.
Houska's group, based on their 2016 filing, seems to have had some sort of status with the IRS but has either stopped or is perhaps delinquent in making additional reports even as Houska continues her activism against other pipeline projects.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.