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Agent exegesis

"Agent exegesis" Continued...

Issue: "Rejecting religious liberty," June 15, 2013

Wagenmaker called it strange that the IRS singled out Planned Parenthood for protection from these small grassroots groups. “That is like the elephant being concerned about a mosquito,” she said. “I’d love to see an application from a Planned Parenthood to see if the IRS asked them, ‘Do you counsel on pro-life issues?’”

The IRS did not just pursue local groups advocating for life. Established national faith-based organizations promoting traditional marriage found themselves in the agency’s crosshairs.

Franklin Graham wrote a letter to President Obama on May 14 claiming the IRS last year targeted the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse. The groups bought ads in the spring of 2012 supporting a North Carolina amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage and ads before last November’s elections asking citizens to “vote for Biblical values.” Last fall, the IRS notified the ministries that the agency would review their tax records.

“This is morally wrong and unethical—indeed some would call it ‘un-American,’” Graham wrote. “Unfortunately, while these audits not only wasted taxpayer money, they wasted money contributed by donors for ministry purposes as we had to spend precious resources servicing IRS agents in our offices.”

The Biblical Recorder, a Baptist newspaper in North Carolina, received its first IRS audit in its 180-year history in March after publishing ads supporting the state’s marriage amendment.

James Dobson’s Family Talk Action Corporation filed a form seeking 501(c)(4) approval in the fall of 2011. The group’s attorneys spent 19 months following the request. On March 19, 2013, an IRS agent told a Dobson attorney that the exemption status would not be granted because Dobson had criticized President Obama. According to Alex McFarland, a senior Dobson advisor, the IRS agent said Dobson was not producing content that was educational or presented all viewpoints. When Dobson’s attorney threatened litigation, it took the IRS nine days to grant the tax-exempt status.

UNDUE PRESSURE: Martinek in her home.
Associated Press/Photo by Charlie Neibergall
UNDUE PRESSURE: Martinek in her home.
UNDUE PRESSURE: Christian Voices for Life holds a recent life chain event.
UNDUE PRESSURE: Christian Voices for Life holds a recent life chain event.
SPECIAL FAVORS?: Solmonese (left) and Obama at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Newscom
SPECIAL FAVORS?: Solmonese (left) and Obama at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner.
FIGHTING BACK: Franklin, left, and Billy Graham
Associated Press/Photo by Bill Haber
FIGHTING BACK: Franklin, left, and Billy Graham
FIGHTING BACK: A National Organization for Marriage rally in Washington, D.C.
Russ Voss/Polaris/Newscom
FIGHTING BACK: A National Organization for Marriage rally in Washington, D.C.

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The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) suspects that someone at the IRS leaked confidential donor information to a rival advocacy group in the heat of last year’s elections. The group receiving the information, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), calls itself the nation’s largest LGBT organization. HRC’s head, Joe Solmonese, soon became a co-chair of Obama’s reelection campaign. Touting the information as never-before-seen, HRC published NOM’s donor data on its website in March 2012. The list of names included then presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

“Not only has Romney signed NOM’s radical marriage pledge, now we know he’s one of the donors that NOM has been so desperate to keep secret all these years,” Solmonese said at the time.

Publication of the list led gay-marriage groups to push for boycotts of the donors’ businesses. A forensic specialist hired by NOM determined that the leaked document originated from the IRS after uncovering a redacted IRS watermark that only appears in documents in the agency’s internal computer system. NOM is filing a lawsuit to discover who is behind this illegal breach of information that is punishable by up to five years in prison.

“I remind people that the abuse of the IRS for political purposes was one of the charges of impeachment that had been drawn up against Richard Nixon before he resigned back in 1974,” said John Eastman, NOM’s chairman. He added that some of NOM’s major donors are reluctant to continue giving if their personal information can’t be kept private.

Eastman recognized that the pro-life groups, the traditional marriage groups, and the Tea Party groups all are guilty of being on the wrong side of the Obama administration.

Wagenmaker, who specializes in representing nonprofits before the IRS, said the agency historically zeros in on money issues and the misuse of donations. Are the nonprofit leaders paying themselves, getting insider deals, or making loans with contributions?

“These things are natural for the IRS to be a watchdog for,” she said. “But now the IRS is asking about people’s message. As long as the IRS is charged with regulating political speech there are going to be problems.”

Wagenmaker has worked on four cases where the IRS has conducted viewpoint profiling. The big question many social conservatives are asking in the aftermath of the IRS’ overreach: How many sprouting local groups did not have the resources to break through IRS roadblocks? How many no longer exist or can’t expand or were silenced because they were put on a watch list and couldn’t fight IRS muscle? As Martinek with the Iowa pro-life group says, “Trying to fight the IRS can squash your hopes.”

Capitol Hill lawmakers are getting daily phone calls from constituents who oversee conservative groups wondering whether viewpoint discrimination is at the heart of recent IRS audits and delays.


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