The IRS gave extra scrutiny to 298 groups applying for tax-exempt status, the Washington Post reported. Seventy-two of those groups had “tea party” in their title, 13 had “patriots,” and 11 had “9/12,” shorthand for the 9/12 movement started by conservative TV host Glenn Beck.
But IRS officials not only singled out tea party and liberty groups. They also looked for “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement,” according to the leaked timeline. This included groups that planned to focus on government debt and spending, taxes, or those trying to “make America a better place to live.” In June 2011, Lerner reportedly became aware of what was going on and directed staffers to change to how they vetted nonprofit applications.
By the spring of 2012, so many conservative groups had complained about the IRS harassing them that Republicans in Congress took notice. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) sent the IRS a letter asking why it was targeting tea partiers, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) held a hearing in which he grilled then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, a George W. Bush appointee, over the agency’s treatment of conservative groups. Shulman denied that his agency was targeting conservatives, and the controversy remained quiet until Lerner’s apology.
Revelations the past few days that the Internal Revenue Service has been giving special attention to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status have converged with the news that the Justice Department has been seizing phone records of The Associated Press. Reaction from both camps has been outrage seasoned with constitutional fervor.
Not to overstate, but nothing less than free speech is at stake, about which no one should be confused.
Briefly, the IRS singled out specific groups with words such as “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their names for special scrutiny, including asking for donor lists. Needless to say, this would have a chilling effect on donors who prefer anonymity, but it also smacks of intimidation. The implication: Criticize the government and you will pay. Literally. The targeting, moreover, was not a rogue operation by some random field agents in Cincinnati, as originally claimed, but, according to The Washington Post, involved IRS officials in Washington.
“Outrageous” was the term President Obama used Monday during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Obama promised to get to the bottom of it even though, as president, he can’t directly contact the IRS about a tax matter. This is owing to the legacy of Watergate, when then-President Richard Nixon used the IRS to intimidate his perceived enemies. The unavoidable comparison is, well, unavoidable.
Obama can rattle some cages, though, given his administration’s almost daily scandal production, he’s going to be a busy zookeeper for the foreseeable future. No sooner had the Benghazi hearing concluded than the IRS story broke, followed by reports of the Justice Department probe. The latter’s investigation pertained to reporters’ phone records over a two-month period affecting four bureaus, including the AP’s congressional office, and more than 20 lines potentially used by hundreds of reporters and, significantly, their sources.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress released a series of strongly-worded statements Monday, calling for all those involved to be held accountable. And Democrats are not wasting any time defending the IRS’s actions.
“I am very concerned about allegations the IRS targeted certain groups seeking tax-exempt status on political grounds, including a Virginia-based organization,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said in a statement.”There’s no excuse for ideological discrimination in our system. The Administration should take swift action to get to the bottom of this to ensure those responsible for misconduct are held accountable.”
During a press conference Monday morning President Barack Obama told reporters that he first learned of the scandal on Friday when he saw media reports. And while he emphasized the IRS is an independent agency, he simultaneously admonished the agency’s behavior.
“It is contrary to our traditions. People have to be held accountable, and it needs to be fixed,” Obama said. “I have got no patience with it. I will not tolerate this.”
If the IRS can do this to right wing movements they can do it to left wing movements and either way it’s just plain wrong.
Hey, guess what? Conservatives now have a real scandal to tout! They’ve been complaining for a while that the IRS singled out tea party groups for audits, and it turns out they were right. Today, the IRS fessed up:
Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups…”That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association.
“The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added.
Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice. She did not say when they found out. About 75 groups were inappropriately targeted. None had their tax-exempt status revoked, Lerner said.
In this case, conservatives will undoubtedly demand more information about how this happened, who was involved, and when top officials found out about it. And this time, they’ll be right to.
Matt Brooks describes the mission of the Republican Jewish Coalition as educating the Jewish community about critical domestic and foreign policy issues.
But the well-dressed crowd that gathered in May for a luncheon on the 24th floor of a New York law firm easily could have figured that the group had a different purpose: Helping Mitt Romney win the presidency.
Brooks, the group’s executive director, showed the 100 or so attendees two coalition-funded ads taking aim at President Barack Obama. Then Brooks made a pitch for a $6.5 million plan to help Romney in battleground states, reminding guests that their donations would not be publicly disclosed by the tax-exempt group.
“Contributions to the RJC are not reported,” Brooks told the people sitting around a horseshoe-shaped table. “We don’t make our donors’ names available. We can take corporate money, personal money, cash, shekels, whatever you got.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition and similar organizations enjoy tax-exempt status in exchange for promoting social welfare. In this election, the most expensive in U.S. history, they also have emerged as the primary conduit for anonymous big-money contributions.
Forget super PACs, their much-hyped cousins, which can take unlimited contributions but must name their donors. More money is being spent on TV advertising in the presidential race by social welfare nonprofits, known as 501(c)(4)s for their section of the tax code, than by any other type of independent group.
As of Aug. 8, they had spent more than $71 million on ads mentioning a candidate for president, according to estimates by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG. Super PACs have spent an estimated $56 million.
Congress created the legal framework for 501(c)(4) nonprofits nearly a century ago. To receive the tax exemption, groups were supposed to be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” The IRS later opened the door to some forms of political activity by interpreting the statute to mean groups had to be “primarily” engaged in enhancing social welfare. But neither the tax code nor regulators set out how this would be measured.
Updated with the link
A First Amendment watchdog group is suing the Internal Revenue Service for failing to challenge the tax-exempt status of churches whose pastors engage in partisan politicking from the pulpit.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates total separation of church and state, filed the lawsuit Wednesday (Nov. 14) in U.S. District Court in Western Wisconsin, where the 19,000-member organization is based.
The lawsuit claims that as many as 1,500 pastors engaged in ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’ on Sunday, Oct. 7, when pastors endorsed one or more candidates, which is a violation of IRS rules for non-profit organizations.
IRS rules state that organizations classified as 501 (c) (3) non-profits — a tax-exempt status most churches and other religious institutions claim — cannot participate or intervene in ‘any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any political candidate.’
To explain where I was coming from, I asked at first whether they would have a problem with a public school teacher using class time to show a Michael Moore film, thinking this would be a relevant counter-example. Miranda wasn’t familiar with Moore, and insisted that she saw the D’Souza documentary as neutral—a way to get the kids talking about the president’s policies and the upcoming election. Both pastors assured me that they in no way endorsed one candidate over another (RC suggested that Christians might sidestep the entire issue of the presidential election, and Romney’s Mormonism, by writing in “Jesus” or “the Bible” as a protest vote at the polls).
“We just wanted to get the kids thinking,” they told me.
When I wondered if purchasing tickets for the kids using Salvation Army funds could be a violation of the church’s tax-exempt status, Miranda argued that she didn’t see a problem. Since the Bible is applicable to every facet of private and public life, she reasoned, how it would be possible to talk to the kids about anything government-related without jeopardizing their tax-exemption? “Our hands would be tied!” she complained.
That would be the point, at least when it comes to political candidates. When a church applies for tax exemption, the institution agrees to abide by certain rules, which are intended to enforce the separation of church and state. Officially, the IRS prohibits “voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates.” Unofficially, however, enforcement of this policy is so toothless that only one church has ever lost its tax-exempt status, and pulpit politicking is the norm across the country.
But that disagreement was just one of many. As we kept talking, it became clear that we didn’t see eye-to-eye on much of anything. While I saw the showing of this film as indoctrination, tying political propaganda to a Bible study lesson, Miranda argued it was appropriate, since “America is one nation under God.” While Miranda suspected that all news media was biased, portraying believers as ignorant and out of touch, I recognized a persecution complex I used to share. When I explained that I saw my old way of thinking as “the box that my brain was trapped inside,” Miranda instead saw conservative news sources and bible-based thinking as “a hedge of protection” safeguarding the minds of believers against secular lies—indoctrination, as they saw it, of another kind.
We were speaking two different languages.
While I saw the Salvation Army’s support for Republican politics as wildly out of sync with the realities of the disadvantaged kids and families they serve—the very people who would benefit from health care reform and other progressive social policies—Miranda believed that the kids would be better served learning to trust that God, not the government, would provide for their physical needs.
It was at this point that Miranda decided to display her own trust in God by submitting the movie ticket receipt for reimbursement from the Salvation Army, taking a daring stand for truth, 501c3 be damned. She later told me the Salvation Army headquarters had supported her decision, but in the future, they’ll have permission forms for parents to sign, “So if anyone is afraid of a certain movie,” there won’t be a problem.
But the larger point I took away from the discussion was more about my perspective as a former card-carrying member of the Christian Right, and how our different worldviews shaped our ability to see the teen movie trip as a problem. From inside the “hedge of protection”—a Christian ghetto undisturbed by competing viewpoints—the pastors could not fathom 2016: Obama’s America as blatant propaganda.
You need to punch out and read the whole article, the author has a background from the Quiverfull movement.
You couldn’t devise a better political hit-and-run.
In the summer of 2010, an unknown group called the Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity (CHGO) asked (PDF) the Internal Revenue Service to grant it 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. The organization told the IRS it didn’t plan to spend a penny on politics. Once the IRS gave CHGO the green light, however, the group plunged into the 2010 political season. It would ultimately raise $4.8 million—$4 million of that from a single anonymous donor—and spend $2.3 million on TV ads attacking 11 House Democrats running for re-election. (Ten of them lost.)
Later, on its 2010 and 2011 tax returns, CHGO claimed it hadn’t spent money on politics. Watchdogs filed complaints against CHGO alleging it had flouted tax and election laws. But sometime in 2011, after the Republicans’ 2010 “shellacking,” CHGO quietly disappeared. The group, and the anonymous individuals behind it, has yet to face any punishment.
The tale is a familiar one in the campaign finance world, illustrating the slow-moving, scattershot nature of justice when it comes to political money.
The Internal Revenue Service may be weighing changes to how it polices tax-exempt political groups amid charges the tax agency has been lax on enforcement for a new breed of campaign funding organizations with vast resources.
Tax-exempt groups are raising and spending record amounts of money in attempting to sway the November 6 elections, bolstered by the Supreme Court’s landmark “Citizens United” ruling in 2010, which lifted some political contribution limits in federal elections.
Consumer groups have been pushing the IRS to clarify the standards for these so-called “social welfare organizations,” as Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code calls them, to ensure that they are not abusing their tax-exempt status.
Last month, Terry Jones (the “Burn a Qur’an Day” guy)hanged President Barack Obama in effigy on the front lawn of Dove World Outreach Center, the Gainesville church where he was the pastor until late last year. It earned him a few calls from the Secret Service and an IRS complaint that said his church’s tax-exempt status should be revoked because the church was participating in obvious political activism.
He told New Times the effigy represented “death — of course, not to him. To his political career” and that the black guy hanging from a gallows wasn’t meant to carry any racial undertones.
Now, he’s upped the ante: Terry Jones has dug a grave for Barack Obama.
“Dr Terry Jones says Obama Dead in 2012,” reads a statement sent by Jones’ political organization, Stand Up America. He’s using the same out that he did with the gallows: It’s a metaphor, man.
“Dr. Terry Jones calls for the death of Obama’s presidency in 2012. America cannot afford another four years of being lied to, and stolen from,” it reads. “In 2012, vote Obama out of the White House and bring a death to Obama’s political career.”
And, if you look really closely, the fine print reveals that the grave isn’t technically for Obama but for his presidency: