Letters from our readers.
Jan. 23 1998 3:30 AM

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(r) (u) (a) 501(c)(3)?

Jacob Weisberg's "Happy Birthday, Heritage Foundation" is wrong on one major point. In it he wrote, "Heritage is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, which means it is not supposed to lobby Congress." This is not true. Nonprofit organizations, or 501(c)(3)s, are in fact encouraged to lobby under existing law, subject to certain limitations.

When nonprofit organizations lobby, they make an invaluable contribution to the public-policy process. Charities and nonprofit organizations speak for the public interest, not private interests. They often represent large numbers of ordinary Americans on issues like the environment or consumer protection, or vulnerable populations who lack the resources or skills to assert their basic rights.

Moreover, as service providers, charities are often on the front lines combating the worst problems besetting our communities. Their voices help produce more efficient and effective public policy. Although we might disagree with the Heritage Foundation, as a 501(c)(3), they are doing nothing wrong by lobbying.


Current law does prohibit 501(c)(3)s from working for or against candidates for public office, and that is appropriate. Nonprofits also are prohibited from using federal funds for the purposes of lobbying (see Office of Management and Budget Circular A-122), but they may lobby using other funding sources, such as foundations or their membership.

In devising the laws governing nonprofit lobbying, Congress recognized that 501(c)(3)s should be encouraged to exercise their First Amendment rights. Certainly Congress is in no danger of being overrun by Gucci-clad lobbyists working for the poor and the environment.

Weisberg's mistake reflects a common misconception. The Washington Post recently made the exact same error in discussing 501(c)(3)s.

--Reece RushingOMB Watch


Editors' note: The Internal Revenue Code does not encourage lobbying by 501(c)(3) organizations, but it does allow it under limited circumstances. Here's a laying it all out, helpfully provided to us by a Washington lawyer who just happens to be the husband of a Slate editor.

Hot Air

I read David Plotz's "The (Not Yet) Around-the-World Balloonists" on a flight from London to L.A., sitting next to a New Zealander who had just won a transatlantic rowing race. Perhaps that's why I feel Plotz's article is the silliest explanation of the logic of adventure I've ever read. In particular, Plotz's notion that adventures used to be (and need to be) driven by practical considerations, such as opening trade routes, strikes me as daft. While Plotz is right that the number of challenges remaining seems to be decreasing--it could hardly increase--I find it almost impossible to believe that previous record-setters were driven by the kind of practical, commercial concerns that Plotz ascribes to Ferdinand Magellan and Dick Rutan.

If his theory were true, Edmund Hillary's ascent of Mount Everest would have been motivated by a desire to test new oxygen tanks, and Joshua Slocum would have circumnavigated the world in order rack up frequent-sailing miles. Yes, of course balloons are a uniquely terrible mode of transportation. Sticking ice axes in the sides of mountains is a pretty stupid way to get to 29,000 feet as well. The motivation of adventurers everywhere is to achieve something no one else has achieved and to derive the pleasure that arises from that--and, not incidentally, to get famous by writing books about it. And the reason why the rest of us sit in our armchairs and read about these accomplishments is because we wish we'd done something as interesting with our time. If there is an occasional practical benefit to these shenanigans, so much the better. In the meantime, the world will probably be content to support the world of adventure through an occasional perilous walk to Borders.


--Ravi Desai

Deflating Lindy

According to David Plotz ("The [Not Yet] Around-the-World Balloonists"), "Charles Lindbergh's crossing wasn't just a stunt: It made real the idea of transatlantic air travel." By the time Charles Lindbergh made the first solo crossing, the idea of transatlantic air travel had already been made real by other flyers who had crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

While Lindbergh's crossing certainly captured the public imagination (as some of today's balloonists have also), it did little to advance the technology of aviation.


--Edward Ehrlich

Mustang Sally

Jacob Weisberg's "No Respect," on why the establishment hates Clinton, was outstanding. Of all the obnoxious, hypocritical statements he collected, the worst was Sally Quinn on why people "who have attained a certain social or political position" feel dissed by Clinton. Let's see: Clinton attained his position by being elected president; Quinn attained hers by marrying her boss. And he's supposed to suck up to her? Another reason for Georgetown's hostility is that Clinton's 1993 tax increase fell hardest on upper-crust types. They like to talk about their social consciences, but Clinton is the first political leader in a generation to make them put their money where their mouths are.

--Tom ScarlettHyattsville, Md.

Remember Venn?

I wondered if someone writing for Slate could be dispassionate, honest, and objective about the browser issue. I wish I could say that "You Be the Judge" fit the bill, but I just don't buy it. I tried your experiment. Yes indeed, remove those three .dll files and several other files don't work correctly. But restore those three files without IE 4 and guess what? Everything runs just fine.

So, as far as I can see, the whole distinction really boils down to a few overlapping files. This is hardly an existential issue. It reminds me of a Venn diagram with two overlapping circles, A and B. If Microsoft removes all of A (IE 4), including the little portion that overlaps B (Windows 95), B is no longer a viable whole.

The distinction that Microsoft refuses to admit, however, is that it can and should remove all of A that is not part of B. It can and should include in its operating system those .dll files that Windows 95 and other applications need. The engineers at that firm know full well which .dll files could and would be needed by other applications, including the OS.

This reminds me of buying a car without a factory-installed stereo. Just because I didn't buy Ford's stereo doesn't mean that Ford left out the battery or the fuse box, both of which are needed for the user to install and operate a stereo after the purchase.

The bullies at Microsoft are simply refusing to obey the judge's orders and are trying to obscure the issue with a lot of techie hot air. They should be fined heavily for contempt of court. Ultimately, I suspect the company will need to be broken up (much as AT&T was), with the OS division allowed to retain its natural monopoly but the other divisions forced to face the same competitive pressures that Netscape and other entrants face.

--Jim JohnsonNew York City

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