The list of categories included in the IRS’s effort to target conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status continues to widen. On Wednesday, the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm, announced that cases they handled “demonstrate the agency’s abuse of pro-life organizations in addition to those identified as ‘tea party’, ‘patriot’, or ‘government spending’ groups.” Meanwhile, years of high-profile election involvement from the abortion advocacy group Planned Parenthood have gone unaddressed, including the group’s highly public campaigning against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the recall election of 2012.
Two cases the Thomas More Society handled are particularly egregious. In the case of the Coalition for Life of Iowa, approval of their application for tax-exempt status was withheld. In a June 6, 2009 phone call to the group’s leaders, an IRS agent identified as “Ms. Richards” allegedly told them to send a letter to the agency signed by the entire board–under perjury of the law–stating that they do not picket or protest, or organize other groups to picket or protest outside of any Planned Parenthood clinic. The agent said that when the IRS received that letter, they would grant approval of the group’s tax-exempt status.
Yet the IRS continued to send the group letters, asking for more invasive information. That prompted Thomas More Society special counsel Sally Wagenmaker to send a letter to the IRS demanding an immediate granting of tax exempt status.
Wagenmaker expressed concerns about “the IRS’s disturbing ability” to thwart legitimate applicants in a variety of ways. These included sending them lengthy questionnaires and making wrong citations of applicable law, as they did with Coalition for Life of Iowa. Wagenmaker noted that the purpose behind these efforts was to effectively prevent groups that possessed neither the necessary fortitude, or access to legal advocates, from exercising their constitutional freedoms.
“The IRS’s role should only be to determine whether organizations fit the section 501(c)(3) test for ‘charitable, religious, or educational’ qualification, not to inquire about the content of prayers, protests, and petitions,” Wagenmaker said. “It’s high time that the IRS be called to account for its workers’ potential to trample on our constitutional rights, through such ostensibly innocuous means…what the Ways and Means committee will discuss may only be the tip of the iceberg of IRS abuses.”
In the case of Christian Voices for Life, the IRS withheld approval of the Fort Bend County, Texas, organization’s tax-exempt status, allegedly questioning their involvement with “40 Days for Life” and “Life Chain” events. The group was also subjected to “repeated and lengthy unconstitutional requests for information about the viewpoint and content of its educational communications, volunteer prayer vigils, and other protected activities,” reported the Society.
Wagenmaker again expressed her outrage. “The application of Christian Voices for Life clearly indicated that the organization qualified as a charitable organization under section 501(c)(3),” she said. “The IRS seemed to be intent on denying or delaying tax-exempt status based upon the organization’s pro-life message, rather than any legitimate exemption concern, through its exhaustive, cumbersome questioning. The implication that Christian Voices for Life somehow intended to engage in illegal activity was insulting.”
It was more than that. According to documents obtained by Fox News, the Texas pro-life organization was essentially told they had to promote abortion to balance their programming, when the IRS directed them to explain “whether the group’s educational programs educate both sides of the issues.”
After Wagenmaker began her pushback against the IRS, each group got their applications approved.
The timing of the former case is a critical revelation. A report about the IRS’s abuse of the Coalition for Life of Iowa was made available to the press by the Thomas More Society on August 4, 2009. Yet the timeline of IRS harassment, determined from the Inspector General for Tax Administration’s report on the scandal, dates the IRS targeting to March of 2010.
The Thomas More Society’s press release would mark the third “revision” of the timeline. Last Sunday, after reporting that IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a told a House Ways and Means subcommittee on March 22, 2012 that there was “absolutely no targeting” of conservative groups, the Associated Press, moved the timeline back to “as early as 2011.” The Inspector General’s report ostensibly moves it back to March 2010. Now it’s back to August 2009, meaning the IG’s report is flawed at best — or that another lie is being perpetrated by the Obama administration.
Furthermore, a third pro-life group, Cherish Life Ministries, was also told their application for tax-exempt status was turned down. According to World Net Daily, group founder Peter Shinn says the IRS told him he didn’t qualify. “The representative was telling me I had to provide information on all aspects of abortion, I couldn’t just educate the church from the pro-life perspective,” he said. “Every time I pressed her on this issue and asked her to clarify her position, she would state that it wasn’t what she was saying, and then, she would repeat it almost the same way.”
He further noted that the agent he spoke to accused him of creating a political organization. “I asked her why she said we were a political organization and she said it was because we had said in our application that we did less than 5 percent political activity. I explained to her that this was what was stated in the application and all we were doing was acknowledging that we were doing less than 5 percent political activity,” he said.
Shinn continued to press the issue. “She did get nervous though in the end when I pressed her that I wanted specific information about why I had to educate from a pro-abortion perspective not just pro-life,” Shinn revealed. “I explained to her that the Pro-Life Action League even has pro-life in their title and they certainly don’t teach pro-abortion topics and they are still 501(c)(3). I also told her that Planned Parenthood does not teach about pro-life issues yet they are also still a 501(c)(3).”
Planned Parenthood is also a government-funded behemoth. Its 2011-2012 annual report revealed the organization received $542.4 million from taxpayers in the form of government grants and reimbursements, amounting to 45 percent of it total revenue. Planned Parenthood’s years of involvement in electoral politics has gone unaddressed by the IRS. In 2012, Planned Parenthood played a very visible role in the recall against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, actively campaigning for Walker’s opponent, Tom Barrett. A spokesperson for Wisconsin’s Planned Parenthood arm bragged to the Huffington Post about their work going “door to door all over the state to motivate people to vote” and that “voters are bringing to the polls friends and family members who have never voted before.”
In a statement released to FrontPage, Ms.Wagenmaker used an apt analogy to describe what the IRS’s harassment of the Coalition for Life of Iowa amounted to: “Why the IRS injected Planned Parenthood into its questions to the Iowa group, as if to protect this elephant against a mosquito (relatively speaking, at least in terms of their relatively financial positions), caused me concern then as it still does now,” she wrote.
That the IRS is harassing or protecting anyone reeks of government abuse and political partisanship of the worst kind.
The president’s “solution” for the crisis? On Wednesday, he announced the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who was already scheduled to resign in June–even as ABC News reported yesterday that Sarah Hall Ingram, the IRS official who served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations during the time conservative organization were being targeted, is now the commissioner in charge of the IRS office responsible for Obamacare.
Furthermore, the president ducked a direct question about White House involvement in the scandal. According to a White House transcript, he was asked the following question: “Can you assure the American people that nobody in the White House knew about the agency’s actions before your counsel’s office found out on April 22nd?”
His answer: “Let me make sure that I answer your specific question. I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through the press. Typically, the IG reports are not supposed to be widely distributed or shared. They tend to be a process that everybody is trying to protect the integrity of. But what I’m absolutely certain of is that the actions that were described in that IG report are unacceptable.”
Note that the specific question wasn’t answered. Note also that at least one part of the IG’s report, the timeline, may be inaccurate. Note still further that the initial number of conservative groups targeted for extra scrutiny has expanded from 75 to nearly 500, that at least two other offices besides the one in Cincinnati were involved, and that the number of employees involved in Cincinnati has doubled from two to four–all of whom told Fox News “they simply did what their bosses ordered.”
The House Ways and Means Committee holds the first congressional hearing on the IRS scandal today. The Senate begins their IRS hearings on May 21. Congress has a lot of work to do.
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