We got a letter recently from the Humane Society of the United States’ general counsel demanding that we stop running one of our ads. The ad appeared recently in National Review, a conservative magazine, and pointed to how much of the political spending of HSUS affiliates goes to liberals. HSUS has been going around town claiming it is bipartisan and politically moderate, but people should know where the group really stands.
The crux of HSUS’s complaint is this: Our ad refers to the “Humane Society of the United States’ political spending” when, according to HSUS, the ad ought to specify that this is the spending of HSUS’s political arm affiliates. (HSUS, as a 501(c)(3) group, can spend some money on lobbying but cannot spend money on electioneering for candidates. Its affiliates that are (c)(4) groups can.)
We have to wonder whether HSUS really wants to take this position.
It seems clear that “Humane Society of the United States” can be used in a general way such that the phrase encompasses HSUS and its affiliates, as we do in our ad. In fact, HSUS itself does this. HSUS’s CEO writes on his blog that “The HSUS provides direct care to more animals than any other animal protection organization in the United States” and HSUS makes a similar assertion in its fundraising. The direct care has, in fact, been done at least partially, if not primarily, by affiliates of HSUS that have their own fundraising campaigns and are legally distinct entities.
If HSUS is taking the position that “Humane Society of the United States” can only refer to HSUS a singular entity, then it would seem HSUS is admitting its own fundraising material is misleading. Perhaps that’s something the FCC or state solicitation regulators would be interested in knowing.
In the meantime, back to our ad. We think the ad is fine as it was. Since HSUS took the time to complain, however, we’re going to run the ad again and specifically say that the money is from HSUS’s political affiliates. We hope that gets the message across.