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Clubs say paper's coverage unfair

March 28, 1997

Once again, the Herald-Mail is up in arms against the fraternal, civic, veterans, sportsmen and other non-profit clubs of Washington County. In an editorial dated March 18 and in Tim Rowland's column of March 23, the paper has self-righteously proclaimed that the clubs are nothing more than money hungry organizations who (according to Mr. Rowland) are taking money from `the poor, the sick, the hungry, the friendless, the elderly, and the young.'

We don't know why the paper is so hostile to the clubs of Washington County. Apparently, the paper has decided that we are more interested in money than our community. This seems to us to be an exceptionally unfair opinion. The 23 clubs of the Washington County Club Association are all non-profit organizations. Unlike the taverns, we live under our own charters which require that the money we make to be used to further our charitable or educational purposes.

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For example, money from the Elks Club is raised here and sent to their national foundation. From there, more money than is sent comes back into this community in the form of scholarships, hoop shoot programs, Eagle Scout activities, drug awareness programs, etc. The money raised also helps to finance a summer camp program in Annapolis, as well as a retirement home for those in need.

These expenditures are not viewed as a charitable purpose by the gaming commission (nor, apparently, by the paper). We think they are. When is the last time Mr. Rowland went to visit our veterans in the hospital? We do that regularly and gladly without pay. This year alone, five clubs gave $56,500 for scholarships.

The clubs of Washington County are the county's 16th largest employer. We have over 350 employees with a payroll of almost $3 million. We have over 17,000 members (not including affiliated membership) who regularly and routinely donate thousands of hours of community service.

Why is it that the paper doesn't scream and howl when the county gives tax breaks to new businesses, but gets up in arms whenever we legally and lawfully try to defend our interests? The cause for the paper's indignation is the recent suit we filed over the definition of `gross profits.' According to the editorial, the suit should be `dismissed now.'

The paper's basic attitude seems to be this: because the clubs make profits from tip jar gambling, they should simply shut up and accept anything that the Gaming Commission says.

Well, let's see how this works. The IRS taxes the profits made by The Herald-Mail. Essentially, these profits are determined by the amount of money the paper makes minus the cost to the paper of doing business (salaries, equipment, etc. . .).

Let's assume that tomorrow the IRS comes in and says to The Herald-Mail that its tax obligation is now going to be based only upon its income. No deduction is to be allowed for their costs. Does anyone reading this article think that The Herald-Mail would simply agree to this without going to court to challenge its legality and fairness?

This issue is exactly what the suit is all about. We are not challenging our obligation to donate to charities. We gladly accept that. We are challenging what we believe to be an arbitrary and illegal application of the law by the gaming commission and county commissioners.

It's a legitimate dispute and one in which we turned to the courts only as a last resort. Our legislative delegation asked the county commissioners to sit down with the club association and the delegation to discuss this matter. The commissioners said `no." We had no choice left but to file suit.

If The Herald-Mail agrees to pay taxes on its money for which no tax obligation is due, then surely they have the right to complain about us.

However, if the paper continues to take advantage of tax exemptions legally available to it, then shame on them for all their screaming about the clubs. After all, the taxes that the paper pays go, in part, for people in need just as much as the tip jar contributions do. According to the Herald-Mail, what's good for the goose is not good for the gander.

H.L. Cunningham is president of the Washington County Club Association.

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