Despite the relatively poor turnout at last week’s Tea Party Patriots “Audit the IRS” rally (more on that later), today the Tea Party gained a significant victory in their battle against the IRS.
Political pressure placed on the IRS by Tea Party groups in recent months already succeeded in allowing Tea Party groups to get away with significant amounts of questionable political activity (see here, here, and here, for examples). Now, instead of clarifying the limits of “political intervention” for 501(c)(4) non-profit groups or allocating new resources to put an end to the practice, the IRS has decided that the same Tea Party groups are going to be allowed to “self-certify” that they’re not engaged in political activity.
Daniel Werfel, the new principal deputy commissioner of the IRS announced on a conference call Monday the release of a new report outlining new guidelines regarding non-profit groups.
According to the report, the IRS will now allow groups seeking 501(c)(4) status to self-certify if their application has been backlogged for more than 120 days and they believe that less than 40 percent of their work would be political. The groups would be allowed to seek fast-track certification. Werfel noted that groups whose work is more than 40 percent political wouldn’t be allowed to seek fast-track status, and that groups that receive fast-track approval would still be subject to potential audits for political activity beyond what they promised.
The IRS said it would send letters to about 80 groups offering a faster option, which would allow them to get their tax-exempt status within two weeks.
The Tea Party movement’s claims that it was a victim of the IRS, that they were exclusively targeted for additional scrutiny, have proved false. According to new documents obtained by Bloomberg News, terms including “Progressive,” “Occupy,” and “Israel” were also used by screeners to pick groups for closer examination. Werfel noted that he was suspending the use of such lists.
Werfel also noted other actions the IRS has taken in the wake of the revelations, including that the top five people in the agency responsible for the tax-exempt status of organizations have been removed, including the former acting commissioner, Steven Miller.
Werfel did note that the IRS may eventually issue further clarification on non-profit regulations, adding “We’re working closely with Treasury on a road map toward better clarity in this area.” Don’t expect those rulings to reign in political activity or increase transparency if Tea Partiers continue to have their own way while bullying the IRS.