Annoy a dinosaur and it can turn on you. That's what San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network learned after a year of targeting Boise Cascade for "predatory logging practices" in endangered and old-growth forests around the world. Through its Web site (www.ran.org), leaflets, and creative protests (sometimes involving civil disobedience), RAN has worked to educate the public about the timber giant's anti-environmental role.
Boise Cascade was not amused by RAN's efforts. The company wrote to the nonprofit group's funders, complaining about its "harassment and intimidation"--such as the thousands of letters RAN got schoolchildren to write to Boise CEO George Harad asking him to end old-growth logging. The company's allies have also piled on: In June, the right-wing think tank Frontiers of Freedom (founded by former Republican senator Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming and largely funded by R. J. Reynolds and Mobil) began a crusade to get the Internal Revenue Service to revoke RAN's tax-exempt status. RAN should be ineligible, the group contended, because of its "pressure campaigns aimed at forcing companies to change the way they do business." By way of example, they cite an October 2000 incident when "RAN activists taunted Boise Cascade by floating over the company's headquarters a 120-foot inflatable balloon shaped like a dinosaur and bearing a sign reading: 'Boise Cascade: I love logging old growth.'"
In the past, the IRS has drawn the line at tax-
exempt nonprofits engaging in legislative advocacy, which is why the Sierra Club lost its tax-exempt status in 1966. But the Rainforest Action Network hasn't been trying to change laws--only corporate behavior. At issue now is whether advocacy can be considered educational, and if so, what kind. Should the IRS and the courts take a narrow view, free speech could be set back to the days of the dinosaurs. --Paul Rauber