Is The IRS Meddling In Politics? Again!

The Political Activity Compliance Initiative (PACI). Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? That’s what the IRS is calling its program to investigate churches and other non-profit groups that they suspect of engaging in impermissible political activity.

Tax-exempt organizations are properly prohibited from overtly engaging in partisan politics. It’s entirely appropriate to keep religious institutions and others from operating as tax-free front groups for politicians while avoiding campaign finance laws. The problem with PACI is that it doesn’t provide a workable definition for the activity it seeks to regulate. Consequently, the affected institutions have no clear guidelines for when they may be in violation. In addition, the agency can use the initiative to target groups for partisan purposes. The result would be political activity compliance, alright.

Indeed, amongst the more high profile investigations are those against the NAACP and the All Saints Church, a predominately liberal congregation in Pasadena, CA. Last year, Congressman Kendrick Meek (D-FL) sent a letter to IRS Commissioner, Mark W. Everson, asking him to look into whether black churches in Florida were being unfairly singled out.

OMB Watch prepared a report detailing the pitfalls of the IRS program. They summarized several factors that they believe raise constitutional concerns:

  • The vagueness of the “facts and circumstances” test
  • Secrecy regarding enforcement action
  • IRS statements regarding its intent to prevent repeat violations before an election
  • The threat that an organization’s tax-exempt status will be revoked
  • Lack of deadlines for closing cases

In addition to these concerns is the potential for partisan mischief if politically motivated people or groups chose to file complaints against opponents as a strategy to suppress free expression. The IRS would then be obligated to conduct an investigation which could lead to the revocation of the non-profit’s tax-exempt status. This would have a chilling effect on free speech as well as the free exercise of religion.

Could it be more than a curious coincidence that this initiative is being advanced at this time during an election year? This is not the first time the IRS has made a point of chasing down churches and charities. In June of 2004, Everson appeared before a Senate committee to announce an unprecedented audit effort against these groups. That announcement also came in the midst of election year politics.

This administration has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to tell the truth or to act honorably. The lies it told prior to the Iraq war, its incompetence in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the innumerable examples of partisanship with regard to legislating, judges, executive appointees, election fraud, etc., are all good reasons to be suspicious of their motivation for launching this initiative. Would you trust the IRS to administer this program fairly? Commissioner Everson came right from the Bush White House, where he was deputy director for management for the Office of Management and Budget. His wife, Nanette, was a White House counsel. One of his first projects at IRS was a plan to cross-check applications for tax-exempt status against terrorist watch lists. These lists were notoriously inaccurate. He also considered sharing IRS data with other agencies in spite of the fact that it was illegal to do so. He was said to believe that 9/11 legislation gave him the authority to act without the laws being changed. Sound familiar?

The rubber stamp Republican congress cannot be depended on to fulfill its oversight responsibilities. The media won’t be any help either. So if the IRS accuses liberal non-profits of politicking, without also going after the Falwells and the Dobsons, it will be up to the people to set the media and the government straight.

UPDATE: I wonder if any action has been taken concerning this pastor who told his congregation that anyone who planned to vote for Kerry should either leave the church or repent?


One thought on “Is The IRS Meddling In Politics? Again!

  1. As an aside…
    Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) is promoting legislation to relax restrictions on political speech in churches. While this might put an end to worries about partisan prosecutions, it would create new worries about church and state.

    If churches and other non-profits want to engage in partisan politics, let them start seperate entities, pay taxes, and comply with campaign regulations, like all other political organizations.

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