The Internal Revenue Service issued an apology today, admitting it had unfairly targeted conservative political groups during the 2012 election. Selected groups were asked to undergo additional reviews to see if they were violating their tax exempt status.
Lois Lerner, who leads the IRS oversight of tax-exempt groups, stated that groups containing the words “tea party” or “patriot” were selected for additional reviews. Lerner claimed the practice was started by low-level employees in Cincinnati, and that it was wrong, offering an apology to those involved.
At issue in the investigations was whether or not social welfare was the primary activity of groups, the measure by which they are able to claim tax exempt status. According to an IRS statement issued last year, “To be tax-exempt as a social welfare organization described in Internal Revenue Code section 501(NYSE:C)(4), an organization must be primarily engaged in the promotion of social welfare,” though no one seems to be quite sure how that is measured.
Of primary concern was whether or not donors were finding ways to deduct political donations as a business expense through the guise of marketing and advertising budgets. As a result, IRS efforts increased last year, sending out questionnaires to check for compliance, prompting many conservative groups to feel harassed in the process.
Jay Sekulow, the lawyer who undertook the defense of 16 conservative groups, claimed last March that, “This is obviously a coordinated effort by the I.R.S. to stifle these Tea Party and Tea Party-affiliated groups, and to stifle free speech activities. It’s as onerous as what they did to the N.A.A.C.P. in the 1950s, and I plan to make that point.”
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