September 4 2013
Patrice J. Lee
Looks like the IRS is up to its old tricks. Reportedly, the IRS has restarted –or perhaps never stopped– its unfair scrutiny of conservative organizations seeking tax exemption. After the firestorm of media attention and congressional hearings earlier this year, who’d have thought that we’d be back at square one with the IRS? But it appears that we are.
Less than two weeks ago, the IRS sent a letter to the Tea Party Patriots demanding a laundry list of information on almost all of the group’s activities. The IRS is justified in making sure that a tax exempt organization doesn’t endorse a political candidate, but its requests for information far exceeded justified avenues of inquiry.
This group first sought 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status in late 2010 and has provided extensive information to the IRS since then. They are just wondering when will enough be enough for the IRS to make a decision on their application. Probably after the 2014 or 2016 elections?
A notable DC lawyer representing the group expresses her ire with this latest IRS move:
“This is tantamount to an audit. This is the continuation of the same thing they’ve been doing for four years. They have not stopped. Tea Party Patriots has responded to all of the requests of the IRS to date, but that has gotten us nowhere. They just keep asking more questions. We are now looking at potential legal remedies, but that’s not easy. Congress has made it quite difficult to sue the IRS.”
The cofounder of the Tea Party Patriots thinks this letter is nothing more than a delaying tactic on the part of the IRS which could very well stretch into the upcoming 2014 election. She notes, “What that letter said to me is, ‘We got away with discriminating against you and we’re not stopping.’”
It’s hard to see this as anything else but a delaying tactic –and one with driven by sinister motives. Why else would three years after an application was submitted the IRS still be asking for detailed information on this organization’s activities?
And I am just as concerned about what is done with the information that is being collected. Not to be a conspiracy theorist but this private information and with a politically biased IRS we have to worry that it could end up in the hands of competing organizations, placing the Tea Party Patriots at a severe disadvantage and potentially exposing its supporters, staff, and funders to additional scrutiny and unwarranted harassment.
The IRS made no apologies for its information-gathering and said in its defense that it has come a long way in improving its approval process.
“There are instances when IRS must seek more information before we can determine if an organization’s application for tax-exempt status meets the necessary legal requirements,” the agency said in a statement. “Effort and care has been taken to limit the number and nature of these follow-up questions to focus only on the information that we need in order to properly evaluate the application.”
Apparently, the IRS has cleared some of the backlog of pending applications closing more than half of outstanding cases and approving 65 of 85 organizations for tax exempt status.
That’s good but not good enough. It’s time for the IRS to stop using the tax exemption to play games with organizations with which it disagrees philosophically. As Americans, we should fear whenever the exercise of our freedom of association is hampered by government agents who may be putting politics ahead of impartiality.