So, it turns out that the IRS Exempt Organizations division has been targeting for intense scrutiny conservative and right-leaning nonprofits which were applying for tax exempt status. This was admitted in an preemptive apology by Exempt Organizations director, Ms. Lois Lerner, in a news conference this past Friday. Ms. Lerner also stated that this was the work of “low-level” staffers and was not politically motivated. Don’t expect that assessment to last long.
This is a scandal that is literally unfolding by the minute. It turns out that Ms. Lerner’s assertions are not entirely accurate. In fact, ABC News is reporting the Ms. Lerner herself knew about this in early 2011, if not sooner. Did she put a stop to it? I can tell you from experience, the answer is no. Reports from earlier today put the start of this activity back into 2010, but we could have told you that ourselves.
We have worked with many politically oriented nonprofit groups over the years, left, right and center. During the ascension of the Tea Party movement in 2010, we began to see a pattern of questioning by EO division staffers that ranged from intrusive to abusive. The target was always right-of-center groups, never left-of-center. Several times, the reviewing IRS agent would be asking for lists of donors, political affiliations of directors, and even copies of correspondence between members of the organization. These are not items that are germane to determining qualification for tax exemption. In fact, most of these types of things are not required to be publicly disclosed at all. We knew that and never allowed our clients to comply with requests for such information. News reports today indicate many such groups did comply or simply gave up their quest for tax exemption when the questions never stopped coming.
This story is not going away. It is a travesty that should give people of all political stripes chills up and down their spines. When the Internal Revenue Service can be used to abuse people who are simply exercising their first amendment rights, everyone should be angry. This warrants congressional investigation, which is now all but guaranteed. Even those on the left side of the isle are demanding it.
In the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, called Monday for a full investigation.[quote]These actions by the IRS are an outrageous abuse of power and a breach of the public’s trust. Targeting groups based on their political views is not only inappropriate but it is intolerable,” he said in a statement.
“We need to know who knew what, and exactly what mistakes were made. The American people have questions for the IRS and I intend to get answers. I want to review the Inspector General’s report first, but the IRS should be prepared for a full investigation into this matter by the Senate Finance Committee. The IRS will now be the ones put under additional scrutiny.[/quote]
Some heads are going to roll over this…as well they should. It will be interesting to see whose head rolls first.