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Another Scandal Erupts at the IRS

Another Scandal Erupts at the IRS

At the same time the IRS harassed Republican nonprofit groups during the 2012 political campaign, it selectively advised black churches and other Democrat nonprofits on how far they can go in campaigning for President Obama and other Democrats, according to an editorial in Investors daily Business.

This raw exercise in political favoritism has not been reported in the context of the still-smoldering IRS scandal, in which the agency in 2012 audited big GOP donors and blocked Tea Party groups trying to obtain tax-exempt status as part of what House investigators suspect was an effort to re-elect the president.

But that same year, top officials with both the IRS and Justice Department — including the IRS commissioner and attorney general — met in Washington with several dozen prominent black church ministers representing millions of voters to brief them on how to get their flocks out to vote without breaking federal tax laws.

The "summit" on energizing the black vote in houses of worship was hosted by the Democrat-controlled Congressional Black Caucus inside the US Capitol on May 30, 2012.

The day before the special IRS training session, then-Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver predicted Obama would get 95% of the African-American vote — but only if black pastors "encourage" them to get to the polls. (He ended up getting over 93% of the black vote.)

IRS Goes To Church

At the time, many African-Americans were unhappy that Obama came out in support of gay marriage. So Democrats gathered them in Washington for a "pep talk," which included assurances their tax exemption would be safe if they helped deliver the vote.

It's not clear if the White House helped organize the unusual event, but two key Cabinet members — Attorney General Eric Holder and IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman — both spoke at length to the black church leaders.

Joining them was senior IRS official Peter Lorenzetti, who runs the agency's tax-exempt organizations division. He gave a technical briefing in which he advised against endorsing from the pulpit any candidates by name or distributing voter cheat sheets.

Then Lorenzetti hastened to add: "It is important to note, however, that an organization exempt under 501(c)3 — in this case the church or a religious organization — can conduct educational election activities," including holding political debates or even inviting candidates to speak to congregants.

Get-out-the-vote activities also are allowed, including driving church members to polls and knocking on doors to register people to vote.

"There are so many things that you can do and you should do," stressed Black Caucus member Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C. For example, he instructed pastors, "You are permitted to endorse a candidate in your individual capacity as a citizen. You can appear on a (TV or radio) program away from the church and be presented as the pastor. You can do that."

Double Standard

U.S. tax code prohibits churches and other nonprofits from "participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office."

The ban includes donations, endorsements, fundraising or any other activity "that may be beneficial or detrimental to any particular candidate." In the past, black churches have been known to pass out voting guides to members in violation of IRS rules.

Washington constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley at the time blogged that the special campaign training session offered these Obama supporters — with the direct participation of the IRS chief and attorney general — was a "raw" display of political favoritism.

"If (former GOP Attorney General) Alberto Gonzalez went to Congress to brief evangelical religious leaders on campaigning in the presidential election, the hue and cry would be deafening," Turley said.

Non-black clergy were not afforded the same legal training in campaigning tactics by the Obama administration.

At the time, Turley did not know that the IRS had targeted GOP donors and nonprofits opposed to the president or that it had temporarily suspended tax audits of churches, which it publicly announced just prior to the election.

"We are holding any potential church audits in abeyance," Russell Renwicks of the agency's Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division was quoted by Bloomberg BNA as saying in October 2012. The agency made the decision despite being bombarded by complaints about churches getting involved in the election.

The high-level legal briefing for Obama supporters made just passing news during the election. But the double standard it poses now in the wake of the IRS scandal is troubling.

Perhaps more disturbing, Turley remarked, is that the two federal law enforcement officials who would be the ultimate decision-makers in future cases involving IRS tax fraud and exemption violations were front and center in counseling tax-exempt groups that might bump up against those laws.

 
Source:  Investor's Business Daily at http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials-viewpoint/090613-670166-irs-holder-advised-black-nonprofits-tax-law.htm#ixzz2ePfrD4Lq

 

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