Twenty-one California councils of the national organization League of United Latino American Citizens (LULAC) had their 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status revoked last month by the Internal Revenue Service, including three councils in Oxnard and one in Camarillo. The councils, along with 275,000 other nonprofit organizations in the nation, failed to file annual reports for three consecutive years, according to the IRS, in violation of the 2006 Pension Protection Act.

“There were no real expenditures to report,” said David Rodriguez, a former national vice president for LULAC and current Ventura County LULAC District 17 spokesperson. “We don’t raise thousands and thousands of dollars.”

Rodriguez isn’t concerned with the revocation of the councils’ tax-exempt status since Ventura County LULAC District 17 is in the process of applying for 501(c) (3) status, which will incorporate area councils.

“Everything is run through a central checking account that is the district checking account,” he said. “The council I belong to, Channel Islands, doesn’t have a checking account. We pay dues directly to the district and the district pays national dues. That is why we’re incorporating as 501(c)(3). There were no disbursements of any kind. We don’t raise money. We don’t have an office.”

Rodriguez said the annual membership fee is $40.

But don’t expect LULAC to stop running its course. When it comes to Ventura County volunteer organizations, none has exhibited more clout, blown more whistles and stirred more controversy than LULAC. In 2011 alone, LULAC has released reports scrutinizing the Workforce Investment Board of Ventura County and accusing Oxnard Union High School District (OUHSD) trustees of misusing district-issued credit cards. It has criticized recent county redistricting plans as gerrymandering, called for radical change on the Rio School Board and clashed with the local NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) chapter about alleged racial remarks used during an Oxnard School District board meeting.

As a civil rights group of volunteers who advocate to improve the well-being of Ventura County Latinos — about 40 percent of the county’s population — LULAC attests that its work, though often controversial, is never done.

“We’re getting more involved and letting these people in power know we are the voice of this community,” said Ray Tejada, district director for Ventura County LULAC.

Despite the increasing local political presence of LULAC, it’s plausible that those outside the political realm aren’t too familiar with the Latino organization.

Founded in 1929 due to the denial of basic civil and human rights for Hispanics in America, the organization is the oldest and largest of its kind in the country, with nearly 900 councils in the nation. With a history of legal and social accomplishments detailed on the national website, LULAC made headlines in California in 1998 with the LULAC v. (Gov. Pete) Wilson case, which declared California’s Proposition 187 unconstitutional. (The initiative, adopted by California voters in 1994, would have prevented undocumented immigrants in the state from receiving public social service, health and education benefits.) It was during this time that the Ventura County LULAC District 17 came to be at the behest of Rodriguez.

District 17 comprises councils in Port Hueneme, Camarillo and Thousand Oaks, three in Oxnard and a Channel Islands council that encompasses members from all area councils. The addition of councils in Bakersfield and Santa Maria is forthcoming, according to Rodriguez. Councils can meet independently to discuss ideas and implement community programs, but the bylaws prohibit any public action or statement on issues until approved by the district’s board of directors, which is made up of council presidents. In September, new official board members will be selected and their names displayed publicly on the District 17 website, Tejada said.

In the meantime, Rodriguez said, LULAC will continue to focus on local education systems.

“It doesn’t make a difference to us if you’re Latino or not,” he said. “If you’re not serving the needs of children and you’re a trustee, it’s fair game. Mr. (Bob) Valles (ex-OUHSD trustee) wasn’t a good steward of public funds, same with Arthur Joe Lopez (ex-Oxnard School District trustee).

Valles, who was accused earlier this year by LULAC of using a district-appointed credit card for his personal expenses, questioned the identity and expertise of local LULAC members. Valles lost re-election to the board last year.

“Who are they to be the experts in education? Who anointed them to be the experts? Who are the members, and which ones are the experts?” he asked.

OUHSD said this week that there was no evidence to support LULAC’s accusation, about Valles.

Rodriguez insisted there was still plenty of work to do.

“We’re not done yet,” said Rodriguez. “We’ve cleaned up the Oxnard High School district, and now we’re focusing on El Rio. The public has put three new trustees in and we’re focusing on making sure they have a clear path.”

Tejada, a lecturer at CSU, Channel Islands, estimated there are about 350 members countywide, many of which are educators. He said, however, that the board has elected to keep membership identity private.

“It is a function of our democracy to have interest groups, and LULAC being one, they have a great and, I think, legitimate interest in Latino populations, and as that demographic increases, that kind of focus will increase,” said Stanley Mantooth, Ventura County superintendent of schools. “But they are, however, an interest group, not a regulatory body, nor do they have responsibility for affecting change statutorily. . . . Like any interest group, it is incumbent upon them to do their homework and make sure of their facts. If they have good information and good points of view, it is worth a listen.”    

shane@vcreporter.com