The Inspector General of the Treasury reported this week that the IRS began applying extra scrutiny and conducting harassment of Obama administration opponents as early as March 2010. However, for at least two pro-life groups, that scrutiny appears to have started a year earlier. Joel Gehrke reports that one group was told its tax-exempt application depended not on promising to stay out of electoral politics, but on pledging not to protest Planned Parenthood — a prominent supporter of Barack Obama:
IRS officials refused to grant tax exempt status two pro-life organizations because of their position on the abortion issue, according to a non-profit law firm, which said that one group was pressured not to protest a pro-choice organization that endorsed President Obama during the last election.
“In one case, the IRS withheld approval of an application for tax exempt status for Coalition for Life of Iowa. In a phone call to Coalition for Life of Iowa leaders on June 6, 2009, the IRS agent ‘Ms. Richards’ told the group to send a letter to the IRS with the entire board’s signatures stating that, under perjury of the law, they do not picket/protest or organize groups to picket or protest outside of Planned Parenthood,” the Thomas More Society announced today. “Once the IRS received this letter, their application would be approved.”
Most have assumed that the obstructionism on the application from conservative groups came because the IRS assumed that they would get involved in politics, but the laws on 501(c)4s don’t prohibit that, as Mary Katharine explained yesterday. Their purpose and work has to be primarily for “social welfare,” but that can take on any number of forms.
In this case, though, there wasn’t even a pretense of suspicion about electioneering. If this is true, then the IRS was actively attempting to intimidate a pro-life group into curtailing its perfectly legal activism. In fact, protests against Planned Parenthood by this group would be exactly the kind of “social welfare” protected by an exemption. This not only infringed on the group’s free-speech rights, but also its religious liberty, at least indirectly.
According to the Thomas More Society, the same is true in another case:
In another similar case, the IRS withheld approval of an application for charitable tax-exempt recognition of Christian Voices for Life, questioning the group’s involvement with “40 Days for Life” and “Life Chain” events. The Fort Bend County, Texas, organization was 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.
“The application of Christian Voices for Life clearly indicated that the organization qualified as a charitable organization under section 501(c)(3),” stated Sally Wagenmaker. She added, “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.”
Insulting? That’s the least of it.