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10 News Investigators: Taxpayer funded center could form political action committee and lobby

11:53 PM, Jun 26, 2012   |    comments
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The Regent, formerly known as Brandon Community Advantage Center
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BRANDON, Fla. -- There is new controversy over the lavish Brandon Community Advantage Center, which was build with millions of dollars of your tax money.

The center originally filed papers with the Internal Revenue Service as a simple non-profit organization, but the tax status of the taxpayer funded organization has been changed so that it can form political action committees, lobby, and support political candidates.

The change upsets community activist George Niemann, who says, "It's supposed to be a community center and it's not being run as a community center."

The center, now called The Regent, received almost $7 million in state, local, and federal dollars and has what's called a 501 c4 tax status. That is the common type of non-profit organization that can engage in lobbying or political campaigning.

Niemann says that is absolutely wrong. "We have a $7 million county building that is being run by a small group of  people that can take the proceeds from whatever revenue they generate and they can spend that on political matters and we have no say in that."

While Marshal Rainey, the attorney for The Regent, tells me neither he nor any of the current board members would use the organization for any political activities, Niemann will tell county commissioners Wednesday that with the current IRS setup, there is no guarantee that in the future the profits from that organization won't be used for political activities.

Niemann says, "Maybe some of those members and individuals on the board are not intent on doing political fundraising, but tomorrow you have a whole new board and they may take the revenue generated from that building and spend it for political means and it is wrong."

Some people also say The Regent, which was sold as a community gathering place and hurricane shelter but is not on the county list as a hurricane shelter, spent big bucks on elaborate decorations so it could be rented out to private parties.

While the private board that runs the facility claimed it was $72,000 in the red after operating for less than a year, some raise questions because millions of dollars it received were transferred to various banks that public officials are having a tough time tracking.

And despite the fact the agency board says it won't get involved in political activity, some fear if it ever gets a large war chest, it will go to war against those it disagrees with.

The attorney for the center says it changed its status because it had a problem getting simple non-profit status, even though it held that status for two years.

Tomorrow, the organization is expected to reach a deal to pay taxpayers back $35,000 for items that county auditors said taxpayers shouldn't have funded.

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