Washington D.C., May 17, 2013 / 03:02 am
Along with its targeting of conservative political groups for extra scrutiny, Internal Revenue Service employees also reportedly singled out pro-life leaders for intimidation.
As the IRS scandal continues to grow, news surfaced that two pro-life groups, Coalition for Life of Iowa and Christian Voices for Life, were withheld approval of tax exempt status.
"For both of those organizations there were inquiries from the IRS, there was delay, there were questions...which really infringed on First Amendment rights; they were asking them not to protest, not to assemble," Sally Wagenmaker, special counsel with the Thomas More Society who assisted the groups, told CNA May 16.
Wagenmaker, who regularly works with non-profits as they seek tax exemption, affirmed that the Internal Revenue Service's treatment of the two groups was out of the ordinary, calling it "push back."
"There was no sense of respect or according of good faith; there was an assumption that they weren't probably what they said they were, and in both cases asking if they were really legitimate."
She explained that "the gate is supposed to be somewhat wide to get tax exempt status."
"So as long as you're organized for a legitimate purpose, the IRS isn't going to ask too much about that purpose or your activities, except to the extent that there could be some financial corruption, or something that is truly abusive of the tax exempt status itself; but not the message that the tax exempt organization is carrying out."
And yet, in a June 6, 2009 call to Coalition for Life of Iowa, an Internal Revenue Service representative told them to send the agency a letter stating that "they do not picket/protest or organize groups to picket or protest outside of Planned Parenthood," and that their application for tax exemption would be approved upon receipt of that letter.
The IRS was "picking on this group" as if it "were protecting Planned Parenthood, so that definitely struck me as very strange," Wagenmaker reflected.
When a group applies for tax exemption, they typically "sail through based on the application," she said, unless "it's a very unusual thing they're doing, or their application is very poorly put together."
Neither of these was the case for the Iowa group, she noted. "It was just fine, it was done by an attorney and had all kinds of information."
"In my experience, the IRS ask things about money: are you abusing money, do you have some kind of conflict of interest, are you doing something that shows you're not really legitimately educational, charitable, or religious." The questions about religious views are highly unusual, she said.
"I didn't see a point, on its face," Wagenmaker said, of the invasive questions from the Internal Revenue Service. "Why would they even be asking them?"
"In both of these situations, through the additional questions being asked, it kind of insinuated or implied" that they were unworthy of trust.
"What was disturbing most was this was content based...getting into the religious nature," and into the pro-life message of the groups.
Wagenmaker has said it shows "the IRS's disturbing ability" to stall and oppose legitimate applications through lengthy questionnaires and incorrect citations of applicable law.
"The application itself should have been it," she said.
On May 10, the Internal Revenue Service apologized for subjecting conservative "tea party" groups to additional scrutiny. The agency asked some groups for donor lists, violating its own policies.
The so-called "IRS-gate" is among the topics Congress questioned Attorney General Eric Holder about May 15. Questioning also focused on the illicit seizure of phone records from the Associated Press by the Department of Justice, as well as the Sept. 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission at Benghazi in Libya.
The same day as Holder's questioning, Internal Revenue Service commissioner Steve Miller submitted his resignation to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who had requested it.
Pharmacists For Life International has also reported that at least two of its officers and board members were "subjected to ongoing harassment and intimidation attempts by the IRS through continued and costly nuisance audits and threatening letters over a period of months and years."
The association of pro-life pharmacists said the two have "generally come away with clean audits" after "ugly threats of reprisal" from the agency.
And Protestant minister Franklin Graham has said the tax office selected for auditing two non-profits he heads, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse.
Graham voiced concern that it was not a "coincidence" that the audit came after the organizations took out ads in support of the North Carolina marriage amendment and others which advocated that voters choose candidates using "biblical principles."