While Tea Party groups are making a big fuss and crying “scandal” about the Internal Revenue Service scrutinizing their applications for tax-exempt status, it might be in their best interest to stop bringing attention to the subject.
The more that they focus America’s attention on the blurred line between social welfare organizations and political campaigns, the more likely it is that the American people will finally catch on to their bait-and-switch campaign-finance frauds.
When CVFC, a conservative veterans’ group in California, applied for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, its biggest expenditure that year was several thousand dollars in radio ads backing a Republican candidate for Congress.
The Wetumpka Tea Party, from Alabama, sponsored training for a get-out-the-vote initiative dedicated to the “defeat of President Barack Obama” while the I.R.S. was weighing its application.
And the head of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, whose application languished with the I.R.S. for more than two years, sent out e-mails to members about Mitt Romney campaign events and organized members to distribute Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign literature.
Representatives of these organizations have cried foul in recent weeks about their treatment by the I.R.S., saying they were among dozens of conservative groups unfairly targeted by the agency, harassed with inappropriate questionnaires and put off for months or years as the agency delayed decisions on their applications.
But a close examination of these groups and others reveals an array of election activities that tax experts and former I.R.S. officials said would provide a legitimate basis for flagging them for closer review.
The stakes are extremely high for these hypocritical conservative political organizations that risk bringing attention to their own illegal activities with their constant badgering of the IRS and the Obama administration regarding the manufactured IRS “scandal.”
Most Republican politicians are very dependent upon these dark money campaign donations from corporations, so they better make sure that their cynical strategy doesn’t backfire on them.
It’s safe to assume that manufacturing a campaign finance-related crisis intended to harm President Obama and the Internal Revenue Service is part of their strategy to continue the status quo of dirty campaign financing without strict government regulations. By attacking the credibility of the IRS, it’s clear that they are hoping to detract attention and scrutiny from their con game.
As long as these Tea Party groups are able to call themselves social welfare organizations and be accepted at such by the IRS, bought-and-paid-for politicians will be able to continue to receive large secret campaign donations from corporations without having to reveal their donors.
IRS agents are obligated to determine whether a 501(c)(4) group is primarily promoting “social welfare,” rather than political candidates. While there are a multitude of factors that go into this decision, it is hard to fault IRS employees for placing stricter emphasis on groups that spend millions of dollars trying to eliminate corporate taxes rather than feed America’s hungry.
Even if these groups did not spend a single dollar, their volunteer hours are a problem if the primary activity of the volunteers is to support a particular candidate. While most of the Tea Party groups in question did not spend money running campaign ads against President Obama, they did distribute pamphlets, paid for robocalls, and held rallies encouraging voters to support Mitt Romney.
At least some of the conservative groups that are complaining about I.R.S. treatment were clearly involved in election activities on behalf of Republicans or against Democrats. When CVFC, the veterans’ group, first applied for I.R.S. recognition in early 2010, it stated that it did not plan to spend any money on politics. The group, whose full name in its application was CVFC 501(c)(4), listed an address shared with a political organization called Combat Veterans for Congress PAC. CVFC told the I.R.S. that it planned to e-mail veterans about ways in which they “may engage in government” and provide “social welfare programs to assist combat veterans to get involved in government.”
But later in 2010, as it awaited an I.R.S. ruling, the organization spent close to $8,000 on radio ads backing Michael Crimmins, a Republican and a former Marine, for a House seat in San Diego, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The spending is not detailed in the group’s tax return for 2010, raising questions about whether it properly accounted for the expense to the I.R.S. The group also checked off a box marked “No” when asked if it had engaged in direct or indirect political activities on behalf of a candidate for political office.
The group received two rounds of questions from the I.R.S. in 2012, according to its lawyer, Dan Backer. They included queries about the group’s donors and its exact relationship with Combat Veterans for Congress PAC. The agency also asked about CVFC’s activities, but the group neglected to bring up its radio ads in its follow-up responses.
Mr. Backer called the agency’s questions “sweepingly overbroad” and said the group had answered them appropriately.
In Alabama, the Wetumpka Tea Party organized a day of training for its members and other Tea Party activists across the region in the run-up to the 2012 election. The training was held under the auspices of the Adopt-a-State program, a nationwide effort that encouraged Tea Party groups in safely red or blue states to support Tea Party groups in battleground states working to get out the vote for Republicans.
Adopt-a-State was a key component of Code Red USA, a get-out-the-vote initiative organized by a conservative political action committee. The goal of Code Red USA was made clear in one of its fund-raising videos, which told supporters: ‘On Nov. 6, 2012, Code Red USA authorizes the defeat of President Barack Obama.’
Becky Gerritson, Wetumpka’s president, said in an e-mailed statement that her group engaged ‘mostly in education on all sorts of topics’ and that the day of training was just one of a variety of events that it held for ‘educational purposes.’
Some groups appeared to be confused or misinformed about the I.R.S. rules applying to their activity.
Tom Zawistowski, president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, another Tea Party group that has complained about the scrutiny it received from the I.R.S., sent out regular e-mails to members about Romney campaign events and organized protests around the state to ‘demand the truth about Benghazi’ when Mr. Obama visited before the 2012 election. The coalition also canvassed neighborhoods, handing out Romney campaign ‘door hangers,’ Mr. Zawistowski said.
The I.R.S. usually considers such activities to be partisan. But when Mr. Zawistowski consulted his group’s lawyers, he said, he came away understanding that the I.R.S. was most concerned with radio or television advertising. He said he believed that other activities, like distributing literature for the Romney campaign, would not raise concerns.
‘It’s not political activity,’ he said.
While conservatives may be reaping immediate political gain by focusing America’s attention on this manufactured crisis, it would behoove them to “be careful what they ask for” in the future.
Watch a video of Bill Maher mocking the Tea Party IRS “scandal” in this hilarious clip: