Will the IRS take this advice? After the Lois Lerner/tax-exempt designation scandal and coming under new management thereafter, don’t bet on it. Nevertheless, Senate Democrats have followed up their partisan conclusion last week that the NRA had become a “Russian asset” with a request that the IRS punish the gun-rights advocacy group by stripping them of their tax exemption:
Senate Democrats Wednesday asked the IRS to investigate the National Rifle Association and determine whether the organization should be stripped of its tax-exempt status following a months-long investigation that found that the NRA worked closely with Russian nationals who wanted access to the American political system.
The letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, written by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, claims that the NRA didn’t act as a social welfare organization in the run-up to the 2016 elections and violated the restrictions placed on non-profits from profiting off its activities.
“In light of the continued efforts of Russia to undermine American Democracy, IRS must use its full authority to prevent foreign adversaries from again exploiting tax-exempt organizations to undermine American interests,” the senators wrote. “It is incumbent on the IRS to fully investigate the organization’s activities to determine whether the NRA’s tax exemption should be disallowed.”
The NRA has a number of problems, but this won’t be its most pressing, to be sure. The Washington Examiner notes some of the others that the organization needs to resolve first:
The NRA has undergone a year of massive turmoil starting this spring when NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre accused NRA president Oliver North of trying to blackmail him into resigning. LaPierre won the power struggle but has since been accused of siphoning off thousands of dollars from the organization, including a report that the NRA sought to pay for a $6 million mansion.
Under Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s leadership, the IRS is not about to open up a probe of the NRA, and that’s not just political either. As the Senate Finance Committee chair Chuck Grassley concluded, the paltry amount involved in the travel costs for the trip to Russia makes this look pretty silly:
The staff for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, reviewed the documents obtained by Wyden’s staff and issued a separate report stating they found that the $6,000 in question to pay for the trip to Russia is “relatively insubstantial” and the evidence “does not raise concerns that the NRA abused its tax-exempt status purposes” when NRA officials traveled to Moscow in 2015.
At worst, that’s an issue for a simple fine, not a reason to revoke a decades-long exemption. The NRA may have miscalculated by encouraging connections to Russians that should have been approached with a lot more caution, but to call them “un-American” is not just hyperbolic but a signal of the return of a dangerous approach to dissent, one that we had thought thoroughly discredited decades ago.
That’s what makes this demand notable today. The next time the White House is held by Democrats, we might once again see real-world consequences for millions of Americans from that kind of demagoguery. More to the point, we might also see the IRS weaponized against the opponents of Democrats, just as it was during the Obama administration — using tax-exempt status investigations for political purposes. That’s precisely what Senate Democrats are demanding now, and in the next administration, what they might actually get. Again.