WASHINGTON, D.C., February 3, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Four conservative organizations – two targeted by the IRS, two representing targeted groups – have shot back after President Obama claimed Sunday night in an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that “not even a smidgen of corruption” was involved in the IRS' targeting of conservative organizations.
According to David French, senior counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice, whose organization represents 41 groups in 22 states, “it's a curious thing for [the President] to say, [especially since] one of the main people involved with the investigations has already taken the Fifth in order to not incriminate herself.”
In 2010, the IRS began investigating organizations with certain terms in their names, prominent among them “Patriot” and “Tea Party.” Pro-life groups were similarly targeted, most egregiously when the National Organization for Marriage saw its donor list and other tax information illegally released to the public by an IRS employee. The Coalition for Life of Iowa was also ill treated by the IRS when it was asked for invasive information that is not normal for the non-profit status for which it applied.
All of the groups were either existing 501(c)(4) non-profits or in the application process to become 501(c)(4) organizations. This legal status requires organizations have “social welfare,” such as education, as their primary purpose.
The IRS targeting became public in May 2013 when the IRS official in charge of the department targeting groups admitted extra attention was being given to certain groups. The official, Lois Lerner, made the admission in order to head off a report on the targeting from the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration.
Lerner is the official referenced by French who chose to plead the Fifth Amendment. She eventually retired from the IRS in late 2013.
While the President admitted “there were some bone-headed decisions,” he stopped short of saying any intentional action was taken against political opponents. French denounced the President's description of the targeting, telling LifeSiteNews.com that “the problem I have with the President's statement is you have some of the most sophisticated tax people in the country targeting people with the tax system, tax lawyers who knew very well it's unlawful to target groups based on their viewpoints. That's not a mistake, that's corruption. That's not boneheaded; that's an intentional act.”
Earlier this year, the FBI declined to file charges against the IRS, indicating mismanagement, not illegal intent, were at fault. However, according to Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin, “neither the FBI nor the President can know how much corruption exists in the IRS” because “the FBI has never asked what Tea Party Patriots' problems were or how we were affected by the IRS' targeting.”
Catherine Engelbrecht, who runs the targeted organization True the Vote, was among those who expressed displeasure with the President's statement, telling LSN that “the President's recent comments regarding the IRS targeting scandal represent a continued pattern of denying admitted-to wrongdoing on the part of the federal bureaucracy.”
Engelbrecht also cautioned that “President Obama's posture on the matter significantly increases the risk of this behavior becoming business as usual.”
The scandal has increased in scope since Lerner made the targeting public. Criticism increased after the person heading the investigation into the IRS was found to be an Obama and Democratic Party donor. Furthermore, USA TODAY reported last year that about 80 percent of 162 organizations given closer scrutiny by the IRS were conservative. And while some liberal politicians and pundits have tried to say this means the IRS targeting was bipartisan, Martin told LSN that “100 percent of Tea Party groups were targeted.”
A spokesperson for the legal organization Thomas More Society, which “has defended six pro-life organizations,” told LSN, “We are shocked that President Obama would state that there was 'not even a smidgeon of corruption’ involved in the IRS scandal. The Obama Administration must stop making excuses to cover up the IRS’ illegal activity and instead deal justly with the corruption and scandal that occurred."
Peter Breen, the society’s vice president and senior counsel, also said his group “produced two memos to the House Committee on Ways and Means, totaling over 500 pages of evidence that the IRS specifically targeted and harassed pro-life and conservative charities, illegally questioning their religious activities and withholding their tax exemptions.”
After the scandal broke, the IRS moved forward with changes it says would clarify rules about the activities 501(c)(4) organizations may engage in. However, prominent conservatives have opposed these changes, which the Washington Post reports have been proposed and opened for public comment. The changes, according to the Post, would “explicitly define which kind of activities are political and fall outside of the social welfare category, forcing such groups to be more careful about how they spend their funds.”
The Post says the unfinished regulations would not allow ads to mention candidates past a certain point close to Election Day, among other limitations on speech. 501(c)(4) organizations already trade freedom of speech for secrecy of donors and other benefits.