The Internal Revenue Service has been targeting conservative and Tea Party-related groups across the country and subjecting them to extra scrutiny, according to a spokesperson for the IRS. This fact has Idaho-based Tea Party groups concerned, and wondering how real the threats might be.
“This is very disturbing and disgusting,” Chad Inman, director of Tea Party Boise, told IdahoReporter.com. “I can’t figure out if it’s the usual demagoguery, or if the IRS is actually targeting people. I guess time will tell.”
On Friday, May 10, after a lengthy investigation spearheaded by ABC News, the IRS issued an official apology for what it acknowledged was "inappropriate" behavior, having targeted conservative political groups during the 2012 election cycle as a means of determining if they were violating their tax-exempt status.
According to Lois Lerner, who heads up the IRS office in Cincinnati that oversees tax-exempt groups, IRS agents singled out dozens of organizations for additional reviews because they included the words "Tea Party,” "patriot" and “9-12” in their exemption applications.
In some cases, groups were asked for lists of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.
Moreover, recent reports indicate that the targeting of specific groups by the IRS was happening on a broader basis than originally indicated. According to reports from ABC News, search words like “government debt,” “taxes,” “criticize how the country is being run,” and “educate people about the Constitution” were used as key words for searching through tax-exemption applications.
Additionally, Jewish Press.com reports that there is evidence that the IRS may also have targeted pro-Israel groups whose positions were potentially inconsistent with the Obama administration. According to them, a nonprofit, pro-Israel group called Z Street was told by an IRS agent that it was being singled out for additional scrutiny “to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the administration’s public policies.” Z Street is suing the IRS over the matter.
“I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” said Steve Strickland of TreasureValleyTeaParty.com. “How would you like to be an NRA (National Rifle Association) member right now? I’m sure your stuff has been looked at by now. If you’re a 501(c)(3) group, I’m sure you’re being monitored carefully to make sure that you don’t advocate for anything.”
According to IRS code, 501(c)(3) designated groups can provide informational and educational content about specific issues. Donations to such groups are tax deductible by the donor, yet such groups cannot take official positions on political matters.
Strickland told IdahoReporter.com that he’s noticed an increasing number Tea Party-related groups opting to become a 501(c)(4) organization, which, according to IRS code, means that such a group can collect donations and articulate partisan political opinions, yet donations to such groups are not tax deductible.
Strickland publishes a website on behalf of the Treasure Valley Tea Party, yet the group has no official or formal organizational structure and does not collect donations of any sort.
“In Idaho, all of the organizations (Tea Party organizations) are run by volunteers,” Inman told IdahoReporter.com. “We are not looking for donations that would be tax deductible, and we are not looking to write off those donations.”