A defining aspect of the American tradition is that groups of citizens band together for a wide variety of civic purposes. They recruit volunteers, raise funds and spend those funds to promote whatever project or cause brings them together.
For more than a century, our tax laws have recognized that such voluntary associations – non-profits, we call them today – should not be taxed, because their proceeds are devoted entirely to improve our communities through education, advocacy, and civic action. Section 501 of the Internal Revenue code recognizes them today, and civic groups like Move.org, the League of Conservation Voters, the ACLU, the National Rifle Association and various taxpayer groups have always been included in this definition.
We don’t apply a political test to these civic groups – we recognize the fundamental right of Americans to organize and to pool their resources to promote whatever causes they believe in – left or right. Indeed, whatever their political persuasion, these civic groups perform an absolutely indispensible role in our democracy by raising public awareness, defining issues, educating voters, promoting reforms, holding officials accountable and petitioning their government to redress grievances. Abolition, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights movement – all would have been impossible without them.
In order to be recognized as non-profit groups, these organizations must register with the IRS – a purely ministerial function that has, in the past, been applied evenly and without regard to their political views.
At least until now.
It seems that Tea Party groups are now being treated very differently than their counterparts on the political Left. For the last two years, many have been stone-walled by the IRS when they have sought to register as non-profits and most recently, they have been barraged with increasingly aggressive and threatening demands vastly outside the legal authority of the IRS. Indeed, the only conceivable purpose of some of these demands could be to intimidate and harass.
A Tea Party group in my district is typical of the reports we are hearing from all across the country. This group submitted articles of incorporation as a non-profit to the state of California, and received approval within a month. Then, they tried to register as a non-profit with the IRS. Despite repeated and numerous inquiries, the IRS stonewalled this group for a year and a half, at which time it demanded thousands of pages of documentation – and gave the group less than three weeks to produce it.
The IRS demanded the names of every participant at every meeting held over the last two years, transcripts of every speech given at those meetings, what positions they had taken on issues, the names of their volunteers and donors, and copies of communications they had with elected officials and on and on.
Perhaps most chilling of all, the organizer of this particular group soon found herself the object of a personal income tax audit by the IRS.
These are groups of volunteers who pass the hat at meetings to pay for renting the hall. They give of their own time to research issues and pay out of their own pockets for printing fliers.
The donations made to them aren’t tax deductible, so there is no legitimate purpose for asking the names of their donors, let alone of their volunteers – unless – and this is the fine point of it – unless the intention is to harass and intimidate.
Ironically, the same tactics we now see used by the IRS against the tea parties were once used by the most abusive of the southern states in the 1950’s to intimidate civil rights groups like the NAACP.
No such tactics have been reported by any similar civic groups on the political left, so the conclusion is inescapable – that this administration is very clearly, very pointedly and very deliberately attempting to intimidate, harass and threaten civic minded groups with which they disagree, using one of the most feared and powerful agencies of the United States Government to do so.
These facts speak for themselves and need no embellishment or interpretation. They should alarm every American of good will regardless of political philosophy, for if this precedent is allowed to stand, no one’s freedom is safe. I bring these facts to the attention of the House today and ask that they be rigorously investigated; and if found accurate, that those officials responsible be exposed, disgraced, dismissed and debarred from any further position of trust or power within our government.
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House floor coverage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Bwb29bM838