Is it legal for the IRS to politically single out associations?

Currently the IRS has “apologied” for what the NYTimes genteely headlined as “over zealous” behavior–singling out and heavily querying tax-exempt requests for any organizations with Tea Part" or “patriot” in their name.

Wasn’t this called “illegal” when Nixon did it?

Found. Article II in Nixon’s impeachment:

This conduct has included one or more of the following:
He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavoured to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposed not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be intitiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.

What the IRS did is wrong, but what they did is much different than what you quoted here. In the recent case, there was additional scrutiny placed on applications for tax-exempt status. The applicants claimed that sometimes the scrutiny was so intense as to effectively make it impossible to get approved. This is much different than making private information from tax filings available for political purposes or conducting audits for harassment for political purposes.

If the IRS is to be believed, this additional scrutiny was conducted at the lower levels of the organization with no direction to do this by the higher levels, by political appointees, or by the White House. I have not seen any explanation about why they did it. The most naive assessment would be that the surge of such requests following Obama’s election caused an increased workload and the overworked government employees tried to stonewall the process to buy time or have less work to do. The most cynical assessment would be that the lowest level IRS employees are all liberals that wanted to thwart the conservatives, except these are career civil servants who are not selected by the administration. Neither one of these extreme assessments necessarily holds water. Incompetence could also play a role and is the Occam’s Razor solution IMHO.

Or, you have alot of fraudsters applying for NPO status under those names hoping to exploit some aspect/loophole in tax code for political action organizations.

My mom just retired from 26 years at the IRS, they regularly found patterns that lead them to fraudulent filings. Not that all tea party organizations are fraudulent, but that someone is using that angle/naming convention to commit fraud on a large scale. So they are looking harder at those orgs to ferret out the problem children.

Sometimes it is proper to target certain groups but only after an internal review to do so but definitely not for political purposes. Sounds like this one didn’t go thru any such process. I believe that the IRS is run by a Bush appointee so it’s hard to see that this is going to go any further than internal to IRS; which by the way suspects everyone of being tax cheats. :wink:

There are legit IRS statuses for organizations formed for the purposes of social affiliation (a club), or for various kinds of political activity. Generally, an organization that seeks not-for-profit status (and therefore, does not have to pay taxes on its excess of revenues over expenses) must be organized for charitable, educational, or religious purposes.

It cannot spend more than a very low percentage of its income for the direct lobbying of government officials.

So…if Tea Party Kansas wants to educate people about the U.S. Constitution, that’s an okay not-for-profit activity. [Not up to me to judge whether its version of history is correct–that’s why we have other historians.]

If it wants to hold rallies for political candidates, raise money for their campaigns, donate in-kind goods or services, send its members to Washington D.C. or the local Congressman’s office to demand legislation–at some level of expenditure/effort, those activities mean the organization should lose its 501c3 status.

If you’re interested in what an allegedly charitable organization actually spends ist revenues on, try looking them up on Guidestar or another charity website. There’s a reasonable chance that the organization’s IRS Form 990 will be on file. You can see what charities are spending most of their funds on a true charitable purpose and which ones are spending most of their funds on paying their administrators wildly inflated salaries. Personally, I feel that any organization that is raising $10 million a year, but is spending $6 million on salaries and $2 million on “events” (especially the “gala” as a way to rub elbows with celebrities) is NOT getting any of my funds.

Similarly, any organization that purports to be charitable/educational, thereby ducking taxes, but actually is spending its money on running attack ads (left- or right-wing) isn’t getting my cash.

Yes, I’m sure that is true of at least some of these cases. However, one applicant claims that the IRS required them to submit hard-copy printouts of every page on their web site. That is a bit silly, if it’s true.

So would this be an example of [del]racial[/del] profiling?

Why would it require “all liberals” at the lowest levels of the IRS to carry this out? I would think a simpler solution is that it only takes a few people with the authority to review these applications for tax exempt status to decide he/she/they are going to target any applicant or group of applicants to get the ball rolling. Helps if there is at least one supervisor who approves of the targeting or at least looks the other way.

There are valid questions raised by this affair. What internal procedures does the IRS use to determine what level of scrutiny to apply to applications for tax exempt status? Were those procedures followed? Was proper oversight carried out? What changes, if any, are needed to keep this from happening again?

FoxNews (yeah, I know. get over it.) has posted what it claims to be an IRS letter to the Waco Tea Party dated Feb 1, 2012 showing the various documentation sought in order to consider its application for tax exempt status. The letter requested a reply by Feb 23, 2012.

The IRS does indeed request a few items that seem a bit dubious to me:
[ul][li]copies of your current web pages, including your Blog posts… copies of stories that have been published about you.[/li][li]copies of the pages of your social networking sites.[/li][li]copies of any agreements you have with others for provision of goods or services, sharing of facilities or other cooperative arrangements, or anything else.[/ul][/li]The last of those is incredibly far reaching… essentially any agreement for anything. That would seem to cover seemingly mundane office related contracts for cleaning services, provision of office supplies, or alarm company monitoring services. Are other applicants for the same category of tax exempt status routinely asked to present such documentation? And the applicant has 22 days to reply with that, and MUCH more requested information.

The IRS should not become an administration’s political tool to disadvantage its detractors nor to unfairly advantage its supporters. Administrations change. The political winds change.

I read about these far-reaching requests from the IRS and I was wondering why the investigators simply couldn’t go to the requester’s website and read it for themselves. Likewise, why couldn’t they enter the requester’s name and his/her organization’s name into Google (or other search engine) and come up with these pages themselves?

They are the IRS and can be assholes if they choose to be, that’s why. :smiley: And if you miss printing out a page it’s another ding against you; you are with holding information to the IRS. :rolleyes:

I tend to think that it’s not so much a political attack on the tea party’s as it is a knee jerk reaction from individuals working in the IRS to groups that question things like the constitutionality of taxes and the size of the federal government in the first place. Both sides are standing there saying fuck off to each other.

Or… it’s the IRS giving them a chance to take things off of their website before ill-informed political rantings cause the IRS to reject the application altogether.

The sword cuts both ways.

I honestly believe that the single best thing we could do for our nation would be to force the IRS to observe the same Due Process procedures any other government agency is forced to play by.

Perhaps because there’s no way to assure that they’ve pulled up the webpage of the correct organization? If they’re auditing the “Tea Party of Texas”, but the website they pull up is labeled “The Tea Party of Texas Inc”, how do they know if they’ve found the right organization? (For another example, try looking for the original Ray’s Pizza in New York City.) So instead they ask the organization itself to provide the documentation. Another advantage of this approach is that the group knows exactly what evidence is being considered in its case.

Requiring hard copies is hardly silly at all. Left online, the content is subject to change either by the owner or hackers or server death, ISP bankruptcy etc. etc. The organization needs to be judged by what it submitted, when it submitted it. That is virtually impossible to do with online content.

How many freaking pages does the website have…a dozen maybe? This is an onerous requirement?
Yes, I know, dynamic content. Well maybe dynamic content is not a great idea when you have legal restrictions your content needs to meet.

Using the IRS to harass political opponents is immoral and evil. It amounts to Mafia-like tactics…if whoever is responsible is announced, most likely that person is a fall guy for the people responsible. I’d love to hear the howls from the left if this were a republican administration.

Looks worse than what I originally assumed above; apparently some IRS leadership was indeed aware of what was going on.

Of course they did. Does anyone out there seriously believe that a bunch of low-level grunts at the IRS took it upon themselves to single out conservative groups for extra scrutiny/harassment, and by an amazing coincidence it just happens to have occurred during a Democratic administration?

That’s what I was thinking. Sort of like how an organization, irrespective of it’s actual activity in the community, that incorporates buzzwords in its name like, “Jihad” “Communist” “Rights for Pedophiles” might earn a second glance from various law-enforcement offices. There’s profiling, and then there’s noticing something that waddles, quacks, flies and looks like a duck.

Given how the Tea Party has been in the news…
If someone came to th IRS and said - “We’re the Tea Party Party of Upper Podunk, we’re a nonprofit charity dedicated to teaching the constitution, not doing any political advertising, political organizing, or advocacy on behalf of any candidate or cause”… would you think maybe that application should have a closer look?

Not because “all conservatives are lying bastards” or “screw over the POTUS’ enemies” or any such misguided partisan zeal, but because the primary news about the organization is that it is primarily a political group and any charitable cause could be simply a smokescreen for political action.

The same argument could be made for Jewish groups. Some (most, I hope) are nothing but religious-based charities doing good works, but there are some organizations that are out-right political lobbyists for the Israeli policies. (And some such groups that advocate against the Likud policies), to be fair).

Of course, it’s a very fine line between advocating for public policy change because it is necessary for the beneficiaries of your charity (i.e. for better subsidized housing, for higher amounts of foreign aid) and advocating a government policy change for political reasons.

When does educating about the constitution stop being a charitable educational endeavour and become lobbying against gun control, for example?