Hilton Head man files 'whistleblower' claim against Chamber groups

cconley@islandpacket.comSeptember 19, 2012 

A longtime Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce critic says he's filed an IRS whistleblower claim against the local group and dozens of other chambers across the country, saying they are violating U.S. tax laws.

Businessman Skip Hoagland said the island chamber, like most chamber groups, generates revenue by selling ads for its print publications and website. But, he says, because they operate as nonprofits, they avoid paying federal taxes. He contends these ad sales are profit-making ventures and should be taxed.

"Our position is that the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and others around the country are in complete and blatant violation of IRS tax codes," he said Wednesday.

Hoagland said he filed the claim within the past two months He said an agent in the Ogden, Utah, office is investigating the allegations.

These details could not be independently confirmed late Wednesday.

Mark Green, an IRS spokesman based in Atlanta, said the agency wouldn't confirm or deny whether a such a claim has been filed. He said the matter would become public if any actions were taken or if the matter went to court.

Sadowski and Co., a Savannah accounting firm hired by Hoagland to investigate the alleged tax code violations, did not respond to the emailed questions they asked a reporter to send.

Dean Bell, Hoagland's attorney, did not return a phone call.

Hoagland, 64, has long criticized island chamber president Bill Miles' estimated $321,000 annual salary as exorbitant. He also accuses the chamber of withholding basic financial information from members.

Charlie Clark, a spokesperson for the Hilton Head chamber, said the organization complies with all IRS "statutes, rules and regulation" for 501(c)(6) organizations --- the nonprofit tax status that applies to such groups.

"We are dealing with an individual disgruntled with the responsibilities of convention and visitor bureaus and state tourism promotion agencies nationwide on a personal level," she said of Hoagland.

Hoagland announced his claim Wednesday afternoon at a meeting of the Hilton Head Island Business Association, which was launched several months ago as a counterweight to the official chamber.

Reaction to the filing among the roughly 20 people at the meeting was generally positive, if muted.

"I am not a fighting man," said Gerard Mahieu, of Hilton Head Consulting. He agreed the chamber is "not working well" but said the IRS claim was not his fight.

Mahieu suggested the business association attract others unhappy with chamber leadership to push for internal change.

Hoagland owns Domains New Media LLC, an international technology firm that runs city websites such as Savannah.com and Portland.com, among many others. The sites make money through ad sales. He also owns half of Island Communications and operates a website critical of the Hilton Head chamber.

Hoagland says chamber groups that sell advertising compete unfairly against companies like his for local ad dollars, but don't have to pay taxes on that revenue.

It's not clear when or if the IRS will respond to the claim.

Related content

  1. Media members meet to discuss concerns about Hilton Head-Bluffton chamber, May 9, 2012
  2. Local businessman claims chamber misrepresented his membership status, Dec. 28

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