Some Groups Targeted by IRS May Have Violated Election Law
A report conducted by the Treasury Department’s Inspector General found that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) improperly targeted conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) status and IRS officials have publicly admitted to relying on inappropriate criteria to screen out the names of organizations that included “tea party” or “patriots” for additional scrutiny. But the New York Times reported on Sunday that some of the targeted groups may have used most of their resources to engage in political activity and backed Republican candidates for office, potentially violating the terms of the “social welfare” designation.
Under the law, 501(c)(4)s cannot be “primarily engaged” in electioneering activity. Though the guidelines for acceptable levels of political activity are unclear, organizations with such designations operate under the understanding that they are prohibited from spending more than 49 percent of their funds or time on political advocacy. Several Tea Party groups that reported unfair IRS scrutiny appear to have overstepped these bounds, the paper notes:
When CVFC, a conservative veterans’ group in California, applied for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, its biggest expenditure that year was several thousand dollars in radio ads backing a Republican candidate for Congress.
The Wetumpka Tea Party, from Alabama, sponsored training for a get-out-the-vote initiative dedicated to the “defeat of President Barack Obama” while the I.R.S. was weighing its application.
And the head of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, whose application languished with the I.R.S. for more than two years, sent out e-mails to members about Mitt Romney campaign events and organized members to distribute Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign literature.