Focus on the funding

Published February 3, 2005 10:03PM (EST)

Last week the United Church of Christ made a good-humored effort to show anti-SpongeBob crusader James C. Dobson the error of his ways. It was Jesus' way, UCC head Rev. John H. Thomas reminded us, to welcome all beings into the community, even happy little cartoon characters who stand for diversity and tolerance.

This week Colorado Springs watchdog group Citizens Project is wondering if Dobson doesn't also need a little refresher on tax law as it pertains to nonprofit organizations like Dobson's own Focus on the Family. Citizens Project believes Dobson may have violated the law by openly supporting President Bush during the 2004 presidential campaign. According to the Associated Press, the group has asked the Internal Revenue Service to look into the matter:

"In a letter Tuesday to the IRS, Citizens Project complained about a November article in a magazine printed by Focus comparing presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry and their positions on abortion, stem-cell research and same-sex marriage.

"'You're pro-life, and you want to preserve the traditional definition of marriage for the next generation,' the article stated. 'So which of the presidential candidates comes closest to sharing your values?'"

Organizations that operate under nonprofit tax-exemption status, including Focus on the Family, are forbidden by law to endorse political candidates or parties.

"Our organization believes that this article may have violated federal tax law with its use of code words such as 'pro-life' and with its implied support of President George W. Bush as a candidate for president," said Ellie Collinson, the executive director for Citizens Project.

According to the AP, Focus officials responded that the article was written under the umbrella of its lobbying arm, Focus on the Family Action, an organization operating under a different set of tax criteria, and whose money can be used for lobbying.

That assertion of arms-length legality sounds about as convincing as the theory that Jesus himself was anti-tax.

Meanwhile, Dobson is defending his campaign against SpongeBob's latest star turn in an educational video.

"If you had told me a month ago that Id be devoting my February letter to a cartoon character named SpongeBob SquarePants, Id have said you were crazy," Dobson wrote in a Focus newsletter. He went on to clarify the "complicated" problem:

"The video, which millions of children will soon see, features nearly 100 favorite cartoon characters that kids will instantly recognize, including not only SpongeBob, but also Barney the Dinosaur, the Muppets, Dora the Explorer, Bob the Builder, Winnie the Pooh, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Jimmy Neutron and Big Bird. The video itself is innocent enough and does not mention anything overtly sexual. Rather, it features the childrens cartoon characters singing and dancing along to the popular disco hit 'We Are Family.'

"But while the video is harmless on its own, I believe the agenda behind it is sinister. My brief comments at the FRC gathering were intended to express concern not about SpongeBob or Big Bird or any of their other cartoon friends, but about the way in which those childhood symbols are apparently being hijacked to promote an agenda that involves teaching homosexual propaganda to children."

Would that be a code-yellow alert for cartoon jihad?

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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