Now that the IRS flap has stirred everyone awake and even low information voters are at least giving national news a passing glance….
It’s quite gratifying to see the victims of the unfair and very unlawful targeting by the government vampires piping up and going public with their ordeals. Even more satisfying is the attention this particular scandal is getting from a good number of dinosaur media outlets.
(Eric Holder had no idea what he unleashed when the AP found out they had been bugged. Do NOT tick off the linchpins of the media. That’s almost as bad as double crossing the CIA. They will get even.)
Bill O’Reilly has had Frank VanderSloot, contributor to Mitt Romney’s presidential election, on his show more than once and in general terms – about all Bill allows his guests to get in before trying to bottom line their stories – he described the timeframe of the targeting (really fast considering the IRS is a government agency) and the amount of cash he spent successfully defending himself from IRS grilling and the inevitable defamation of character that frequently happens when an audit becomes known. The interviews were compelling, but stopped very short of the whole story. They were about the individual contributors, not how the non-profits themselves were treated.
(The head spinning speed of the audits alone is scandalous considering how long it’s taking for my tax refund to come from the treasury this year.)
My disappointment with a lot of the reporting to date is the lack of detail on what sorts of records were sought by the IRS. When applying for any 501 status (non-profit) follow up questions and further information requests are par for the course. In the places where I have worked, IRS inquiries for additional information have gone through lawyers to be sure the requests were handled correctly without privileged information – donor names, among other info – being part of the answers. As 501(c)(4)s are strictly local membership groups with programming limited to social welfare, there is no reason for the questioning to be outlandish.
(Just as the IRS has to have the fear of the American people to operate as enforcer of tax law, non-profits have to be able to assure donors of the confidentiality of their information in order to keep the money flowing. That’s just the way it works. And all donor information is confidential unless the donor indicates otherwise.)
Making the various groups wait for 501 status and an EIN (employer identification number) was perfectly obnoxious and, yes, was probably part of a coordinated effort to neutralize the TEA Party movement. But there had to be more involved for groups to complain to congress members that IRS officials were being intrusive. What sorts of questions were being asked that flagged the operation as downright out of line?
Larry Nordvig of the Richmond TEA Party gave an account to WND in an interview with Radio America that partially answers that and should lay to rest what the IRS sought to accomplish with this spate of questioning aside from harassing TEA Party sympathizers into quitting:
Nordvig continued, “The second thing that tipped us off was the second round of questions that they sent and that was a 12-group set of a total of about 55 questions. But those questions had sub-questions, and those sub-questions had bullets. It was extremely hard information to try to dig up. It produced over 500 pages of documents, and they only gave us two weeks to do it. We knew something was wrong right there.”
Many of the questions demanded very personal information, including every piece of literature ever published, background on every speaker and copies of every speech from each event, lists of donors and how much they contributed. Nordvig said there was much more.
“They wanted all of our communications, so any kind of email of Facebook communication with any of our members, which obviously would tip off their identity. They wanted to know who we associated with, who our members associated with. One of the most alarming ones was they wanted pictures of our web pages, including the member log-in only pages, which would have been very private. We did not give that to them,” said Nordvig, who noted that the demand for donor information was also greatly disturbing.
“The entire purpose of us filing for that 501(c)(4) status is so that our donors can remain anonymous. If they can’t remain anonymous, they don’t donate money. I think whoever set this up, this was one of their primary goals,” he said.
The full account and article can be found at IRS “Knocked TEA Party off its mission”.
Last week, when this IRS scandal entered political theater I said that donor lists is what the IRS was after (several people disagreed with me). Donor information is the only major thing other than strategic planning and personnel files that is private in a non-profit.
(Now, why would the IRS, particularly under this regime, want to know that? Hmm….)
From a financial perspective, especially with a 501(c)(4) where donor information is not reported on ANY tax return by design (of the Democrats, I might add), this is all the IRS would need to know – how the money is spent. That and the non-profit’s programming is what determines 501 status.
Unlike c4s, 501(c)(3)s are voluntarily audited at least every other year for transparency purposes. At this point, I have been through enough audits where 1-5 people from an auditing firm commandeer a conference room in the office and go through boxes of records – bank statements, deposit records, expense reports, check logs, monthly financial statements, board meeting minutes, annual reports, etc. – to know that private calendars, email unless it has something to do with a transaction, private messaging from Facebook and other social media platforms, correspondence, and meeting notes are not part of the process. They just aren’t. Some donor files can be if the letter explaining where they want the money to go is in it, but solicitation efforts are not an auditing issue.
At this time in history, one of Americans’ most sacred privacy issues is that of individual finances. It is simply no one else’s business. 501(c)(4) donations are generally not tax deductible, so there is no quick way other than an audit of the non-profit’s private records to know who is contributing to a specific cause. All those quarterly tax returns from wealthy people most likely have no hint of any gifts to political causes.
As we Americans live in fear of being drained by the IRS, both emotionally and financially, what better way to stop opposition to a power-hungry and controlling regime than by not only denying tax-exempt status to groups trying to counter it, but by going after the donors and bleeding them as well. It did seem to work for one election. Then the TEA Party discovered how to publicize the story using a hurt and sore publicity machine, and suddenly light was shone on the vampire we call IRS, and the people involved scurried for cover. Tax audits and the IRS may not go away totally, but at least we all now know what repels the beast – bad publicity. It binds a stench that will not go away unless bleached in the sun – just like garlic.
(Full disclosure – I cook with garlic a lot. It’s great for marinades.)
And by the way, low level staffers in any government agency, let alone the IRS, do not go rogue. They follow orders. It’s not just the culture of government workplaces, it’s the sort of people who go to work for the government. They want to be part of a system so they do not have to think for themselves. Any attempt to deflect blame onto the minions from some much higher level person somewhere in the Treasury is just not going to fly.
Quick aside: a local long time and very well respected news anchor interviewed Barack Obama earlier this year, asked some tough questions and is now on leave of absence. Health reasons were the first excuses given, but in the last couple days it was announced that he’s been audited.