CLAYTON • St. Louis County's health director, Dr. Dolores Gunn, said Thursday that an anti-smoking organization had broken no tax law in its use of federal grant money.
The organization, Tobacco Free St. Louis, is using $545,148 from a federal stimulus grant for anti-smoking efforts.
Bill Hannegan, an opponent of smoking bans here, had complained that Tobacco Free was lobbying the County Council on the smoking issue. Federal tax law allows limited lobbying by nonprofits like Tobacco Free to influence legislation.
Hannegan said that his own activist group on the other side of the issue had to pay taxes on its efforts but that Tobacco Free did not.
"They're getting a free ride," he said.
The Tobacco Free money came from a $7.6 million federal grant the county got for anti-smoking efforts. Gunn said that Tobacco Free, one of several groups that got money, says its goals include education and advocacy campaigns to the County Council and general public about the need to remove exemptions from the county's smoke-free ordinance. On Jan. 26, the group held a news conference where community leaders talked about the dangers of smoking and the problem with exemptions.
Gunn told Hannegan he was confusing "lobbying" with "education and advocacy." Hannegan disagreed. The latter is permitted by the Internal Revenue Service, Gunn said.
Gunn said that St. Louis University, and not Tobacco Free, was the fiscal agent for the grant money being spent through Tobacco Free.
"To my knowledge, the university and the activities being managed ... are fully in compliance with the contract and all applicable federal laws and reporting requirements," Gunn wrote.