Tennessee Firearms leader ponders suing state over 'charitable nonprofits' issue

Nashville-based attorney and Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris says the nonprofit is “exploring options” following the Tennessee Department of State noting via letter it will enforce the Tennessee Charitable Solicitations Act on the TFA.

Harris, who contends the TFA does not have a charitable component, said he would like to keep a lawsuit, if he chooses that option, amicable. He added he simply would seek the opinion of an attorney general or a court. 

“This is very bad for nonprofits that are not charities and I think may be politically motivated,” Harris said. “It’s not a good thing for a government agency to have detailed oversight and information on the internal operations of a politically active ‘non-charity’ for First Amendment reasons and others.”

In the letter to Harris (pictured), dated July 15, Brent Culberson, director of the Tennessee Department of State's Division of Charitable Solicitation and Gaming, writes that the TFA must register with the division by Aug. 1 if it “intends to solicit contributions” in Tennessee.   

“If the TFA does not become fully compliant by the August 1 deadline, the division will be left with no choice but to institute an enforcement action pursuant against the TFA for its continued violation of the Act,” Culberson writes, adding enforcement could include “obtaining injunctive relief and assessing civil penalties against the TFA.”

Harris contends the division of charitable solicitation is overreaching on its longstanding definition of “charitable organization" and, in the process, is creating undue requirements on numerous state nonprofits that do not consider themselves to be charities. He said that because the requirements are cumbersome, he recently amended TFA’s state charter to note it is not a charity.  

Specifically, the Tennessee Charitable Solicitations Act, passed in 1976, requires nonprofits that are or bill themselves as “benevolent, educational, voluntary health, philanthropic, humane, patriotic, religious or eleemosynary (i.e., charitable)” to register with the state as charitable organizations.

For the first year of operating and after filing its initial registration, a nonprofit must provide the state with quarterly reports outlining contributions and expenditures, among other financials. After the first year, the charitable nonprofit must submit an annual financial report as part of the renewal process.

Harris, who voluntarily serves as TFA executive director, said filing with the state four times for the first year will require expenses that go beyond those needed to simply comply with IRS requirements.

Harris said the state notified TFA, a 501(c)(4) organization, earlier this year that it considers the association a charity.

Read more here.

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