Is the IRS Using Your Tax Dollars to Harass Conservative Political Organizations?
Numerous news outlets reported recently that conservative coalitions and organizations from Hawaii to Virginia, including Tea Party groups, the Ohio Liberty Council, the Kentucky 9/12 project, and many others that applied to the IRS over the last two plus years for tax exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4), have received IRS information requests that are unusual in the breadth and depth of information the powerful federal tax collectors demand to see.
Of course the IRS is tasked under federal law to determine if groups applying for Section 501 tax exemption meet the criteria the law provides. But the combination of (1) the quantity and the particular kinds of information the IRS has demanded, and (2) the fact that the IRS’ information-request avalanche followed a request sent by letter from Senators Shaheen, Whitehouse, Schumer, Franken, Udall, Bennet and Merkley to the IRS, raises serious questions about the real motive for the powerful federal agency’s actions.
These seven Democrat Senators urged IRS investigation into whether 501(c)(4) applicants are engaging in substantial campaign activity including opposition to any candidate. The IRS apparently read between the Democrat lines and launched the harassment-level investigations only of right-leaning organizations, unless MoveOn.org and other left-leaning organizations have received similar requests from Obama’s IRS, and are submissively complying without public complaint.
Stories abound in the media about the IRS’ treatment of Tea Party groups. You can read about them here, here and here. But the IRS has extended its aggressive information demand campaign to other conservative organizations as well.
A well-known leader in North Texas founded two related organizations in 2010, both with the purpose of educating a minority group on conservative issues and values through research and presentation of those values in media, and through public speaking at conferences and events. One was founded as a 501(c)(4), and received its tax-exempt status within a year. The other, which is mainly educational in purpose, was founded as a 501(c)(3) organization. A decision on the tax-exempt application for the 501(c)(3) was anticipated within approximately six months, but nearly two years have passed since filing the application, without resolution. The founder and the organization’s attorney contacted the IRS several times throughout this period to check on the status of the application and ask if other information was needed. After 22 months passed without communication back from the IRS, in January of 2012 the IRS issued a voluminous request for information.
When the founder complied with the first request, the IRS’ answer was to launch a supplemental information demand that included requests for the time, location and content schedule for every event, copies of all handouts at the events, detailed contents of the speeches or forums, and a host of other information requests that are onerous, and have a chilling effect on the activities of the founder and on citizens who participate in these events. (This founder prefers anonymity in this article to avoid potential ongoing IRS “uncooperativeness”.) While this particular scenario played out before the Democrat Senators’ goading letter to the IRS, the conduct and attitude of the IRS toward this group parallels their attitude toward the Tea Party.
Curiously, the IRS website says they are currently processing applications for 501(c)(3) status made in July 2011. This North Texas founder, as well as many of the Tea Party applicants for tax-exempt status, made their requests long before that July 2011 timeframe, and only in recent months has received the agency’s reply in the form of intrusive and chilling information requests. One example is the Richmond Tea Party, that applied for 501(c)(4) status in December of 2009, and as of January 2012 was still dealing with follow-up demands from the IRS for more information, including one 53 part inquiry that asked for names and amounts of every contributor, and copies of web pages accessible only to its members.
As a former litigator, I know the “bury them in paperwork” tactic that leaves smaller law firms at a disadvantage responding to document and information requests. Compliance is time-consuming and renders the recipient unable to proactively pursue his case because he is too busy assembling and copying documents, and collecting information to provide accurate and thorough answers.
But if the IRS information requests are as egregious as they appear, the impact is more than just a time and resource drain for conservative activists. It is no secret that conservative organizations do not support the fiscal and other policies of the current President and his fellow Democrats. By asking for donor information, and content of speeches and flyers and handouts, the IRS is letting Americans know that discussion critical of the administration will not go unnoticed by the federal government. Every American, regardless of political persuasion, should oppose this exertion of government power.