On Friday, officials from the Internal Revenue Service publicly acknowledged and apologized for singling out conservative political groups for additional scrutiny regarding their tax-exempt status. Roughly 300 groups were targeted, though none had their tax-exempt status revoked. The IRS said its system automatically flagged groups that registered with words like “tea party,” “9/12” and “patriot” for additional review.
The IRS says it was making sure these organizations weren’t violating the guidelines for a 501(c)(4) group, but admits the criteria used singled out right-wing ideology. Loyola Law School professor Ellen Aprill told the Washington Post any group trying to get tax-exempt status from the government is asking for scrutiny from the IRS, “but it is important to try to make these criteria as politically neutral as possible.”
A 501(c)(4) is a nonprofit organization devoted to social welfare. Crossroads GPS and Organizing for America are both 501(c)(4) groups. They are similar to super PACs, but they do not have to disclose their donors. They cannot spend more than 50 percent of their funds on politics. Under the 2010 Citizens United ruling, corporations, labor unions and other groups may file for 501(c)(4) status. The Washington Post sums up exactly what that all means.
According to the FEC (via opensecrets.org), conservative nonprofits spent $263 million during the 2012 campaign, while liberal groups spent about $35 million.
White House spokesman Jay Carney took questions about the issue on Friday. Via TIME:
"The fact of the matter is, what we know about this is of concern and we certainly find the actions taken, as reported, to be inappropriate. And we would fully expect the investigation to be thorough and for corrections to be made in a case like this.
"And I believe the IRS has addressed that and has taken some action, and there’s an investigation ongoing. But it certainly does seem to be, based on what we’ve seen, to be inappropriate action that we would want to see thoroughly investigated."
Carney also noted the head of the IRS was appointed by George W. Bush. Beyond Carney’s statement, President Barack Obama decried the IRS’ actions as “outrageous” in a press briefing with the British Prime Minister today.
Was the IRS right to investigate political groups to make sure they didn’t violate the law? Did the White House need to respond to something they had no influence over? Since no groups lost their tax-exempt status, do these organizations have any right to raise a stink about it?
What do you think about the IRS targeting right-wing groups over their tax-exempt status?