The Leadership Institute (LI) was audited as part the scandal unfolding at the IRS. Among other questions the tax agency asked LI was who the group’s former interns are and where those former interns are currently employed. The audit cost the group more that $50,000.
LI is a nonprofit based in northern Virginia just outside Washington, D.C., that focuses on training conservative activists and aims to build their ranks around the country. Since LI works with so many other organizations, and its former students are all over the country, such an audit by the IRS reaches deep into the conservative movement.
In early June 2011, the IRS opened an audit of LI’s 2008 activities. According to the LI website, the IRS asked for “copies of applications for internships and summer programs” including “lists of those selected for internships and students in 2008.”
The IRS asked LI to provide information “regarding where the interns physically worked and how the placement was arranged” and for information about where those students now work after the LI internships were completed. “After completing internships and courses, where were the students and interns employed?” the IRS asked according to LI’s website.
The IRS also asked LI about “training programs conducted in 2008” including asking for “copies of training materials utilized in 2008 to include syllabi and/or curriculum” and details about how training sessions and program are “advertised” and how students are “solicited.”
“Are there students in the programs that are not of the conservative viewpoint?” the IRS also asked. “If so, please provide documentation of such.”
The IRS also asked for detailed information about LI’s instructors.
Leadership Institute president Morton Blackwell told Breitbart News this is the third time LI has been audited since he founded the organization in 1979. “The first one was during the Reagan administration and it appeared to me to be a random audit and it was entirely fair, it was not onerous and they were in and out very quickly,” Blackwell said in a phone interview.
“In the Bill Clinton administration, we were savagely audited for two and a half years and wound up spending $70,000 in lawyers fees in that one plus an immense amount of work here,” Blackwell added. “And because we were smaller then than we are now and I didn’t feel I had the resources to fight a public relations battle on the subject, I decided as many other conservative groups decide when the IRS has audited them just to suffer in silence.”
Blackwell thinks the audit during President Barack Obama’s administration, and the questions that were asked especially those about former interns, show somebody or some group of people in the administration “were on a hunting expedition for conservatives.”
“We have done cosponsored training with all of the different significant Tea Party and Tea Party-like organizations and dozens of other nonpartisan organizations,” Blackwell said. “We’ve done cosponsored training with Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Express, Tea Party Nation, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, many local and state Tea Party organizations, and so it’s not surprising that if they’re going after these organizations, if they’re trying to do them damage or persecute them, that they are asking questions about the Leadership Institute.”
Blackwell said that one specific question he vividly remembers from this administration’s audit of LI was “on how you could distinguish the Leadership Institute from the American Campaign Academy case, where the IRS denied tax exempt status to a campaign training arm of the Republican National Committee on the grounds that they were not educating the public; they had limited themselves just to one party, which is what the American Campaign Academy case was about. We had a real good answer to that: ‘The Leadership Institute was mentioned in the American Campaign Academy court decision and held up as an example of the right way to do political training.'”
While that question could have easily been answered by the IRS themselves as any attorney could have looked up the case, Blackwell notes that the time spent having to answer questions like this is time not spent training conservative activists. “They have full knowledge of the fact that it costs time, talent and money to deal with this,” Blackwell said. “You’ve got to do it. You have no choice but to do it. It’s very costly. It takes an immense amount of time and a lot of money. And that hampers our education program. It also hampers and sometimes kills groups that are applying for tax status. The IRS has treated nascent conservative organizations like Kermit Gosnell treated the nation’s babies.”
Another unanswered question, and what Blackwell says is a sign that the IRS as a whole was involved in this not just one small division, is that the Hawaii Tea Party–which was applying for tax exempt status–was, according to Bloomberg News, asked about its connections to the Leadership Institution.
“Our audit was from the Baltimore office,” Blackwell said. “This has got to be widely known, with coordination, because why else would the Cincinnati office be asking the Hawaii Tea Party about the organization’s connections to the Leadership Institute?”