Flier contained mistake, not endorsement: Kolste
JANESVILLE Deb Kolste said she takes full responsibility for a July campaign mailing that might have led some voters to believe she had the endorsement of a local nonprofit group, a violation of federal rules.
Kolste is the Democratic challenger to Rep. Joe Knilans in November's election for the 44th Assembly District seat. The district includes most of Janesville.
Kolste won a four-way Democratic primary in August to advance to the general election against Knilans, a Republican first elected in 2010.
Before the primary, the Kolste campaign mailed literature that included a photo of her and Jean Randles, executive director of HealthNet of Rock County, a free clinic that serves people without health insurance or other medical assistance.
The flier also included a direct quote from Randles: "It would be great to have Deb Kolste in the Assembly."
Several voters have questioned whether that statement and the photo constitute an endorsement from either HealthNet or its director, and, if so, whether such an endorsement violates Internal Revenue Service rules on nonprofit organizations' involvement in political campaigns.
By federal law, the IRS does not comment on specific allegations. In such cases, the IRS believes even general comments could be construed as applying to a specific situation. Instead, the IRS refers those seeking information to its website, which carries the disclaimer that its information is not comprehensive and doesn't cover every situation involving nonprofits, technically referred to as 501(c)(3) organizations.
"Although section 501(c)(3) organizations may engage in some activities to promote voter registration, encourage voter participation and provide voter education, they will violate the prohibition on political campaign intervention if they engage in any activity that favors or opposes any candidate for public office," the website says.
Violation, it says, might result in the denial or revocation of an organization's tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.
The website goes on to indicate that people who believe a tax-exempt organization's activities are inconsistent with their status can file a complaint with the Exempt Organizations Examination Division, either through the mail or online.
Kolste said Wednesday the flier was pre-primary and is no longer being used.
The responsibility for any misconception is hers, she said, adding that HealthNet has long been a passion.
"I have volunteered at HealthNet each week for many years, along with my husband," she said in a statement. "I have gotten to know the dedicated volunteers and staff there.
"I highlighted this service in a mailed card this summer. The card did not claim that I had been endorsed by HealthNet of Rock County. I never have claimed a HealthNet endorsement in websites, position statements or other campaign materials. I included a quote that was apparently edited during card design and for that I apologize. It was my responsibility to provide the correct quote."
Earlier this month, the president of HealthNet's board of directors said in a published letter to The Gazette that the quote attributed to Randles in the mailing was inaccurate.
The organization, Andrea Otis said in the letter, has always had a good relationship with all local politicians.
"HealthNet will not endorse any candidate for any political office nor become involved in the political process," she wrote.
Otis said Thursday that HealthNet has never endorsed a candidate, including Kolste. The organization, she said, didn't approve, see or have any part in the mailing.
"I would hope that no one would pull their funding and support of HealthNet over this," she said.
Kolste, too, said her biggest fear is that people or businesses will stop supporting HealthNet because they mistakenly believe the organization favors one candidate over another.
"I sincerely hope that we can all agree on the importance of HealthNet and put aside partisan differences in our financial support of its mission," she said.