Conservative Leaders Rally Behind Stopping IRS Abuse of Donor Disclosures for Nonprofits

By Leah Jessen Published on July 1, 2016

Legislation that would prevent the Internal Revenue Service from requiring tax-exempt organizations to include the names, addresses, or identifying information of donors in yearly returns could end up on President Barack Obama’s desk.

The House passed the bill, introduced by Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., by a vote of 240-182 earlier this month.

The White House Office of Management and Budget said the Obama administration opposes the House legislation. The bill “would constrain the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to enforce tax laws and reduce transparency,” it said.

“We voted to eliminate a confidential form the IRS proved incapable of securing,” Roskam said in a prepared statement. “The agency has said it doesn’t even need this form for tax administration in the first place.”

Currently, 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofits must provide donor names and addresses to the IRS on Form B of their annual Form 990 information returns. These tax-exempt organizations must disclose the identities and other information for donors who contribute more than $5,000.

The Conservative Action Project, comprised of leaders at over 100 organizations working toward common goals within the conservative movement, recently issued a memo calling for a curtailment of IRS power.

Chairwoman of the group is Becky Norton Dunlop, a former White House adviser to President Ronald Reagan who is The Heritage Foundation’s longtime vice president for external relations and currently the think tank’s Ronald Reagan distinguished fellow.

“The IRS itself has conceded that it has great difficulty maintaining the statutory confidentiality of donors’ identity,” the Conservative Action Group’s memo says, adding:

Many believe that compelling the disclosure of donor information violates the contributors’ and [tax-]exempt organizations’ First Amendment rights to freedom of association and that Congress should prohibit the continued collection by the IRS of this sensitive information.

Roskam’s bill, H.R. 5053, was titled the “Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act.”

The memo, signed by over 70 conservative leaders, called for support of Roskam’s legislation:

In 2013, senior IRS official Lois Lerner admitted that organizations were targeted because of their titles or beliefs, but claimed that the practice was ‘absolutely incorrect, insensitive, and inappropriate.’

H.R. 5053 will assist the IRS in doing its job: If the IRS doesn’t have information about donors to 501(c) organizations, it can’t release it, by mistake, or by direction of a successor to Lois Lerner — one of whom might, soon, be a Republican.

The Senate Committee on Finance released a report last fall that claims the IRS mishandled tea party and conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status, but Lerner, former director of the agency’s Exempt Organizations Division, was not charged by the Department of Justice.

The current IRS commissioner, John Koskinen, is also under threat of impeachment by the House Judiciary Committee for failing to produce documents in relation to the Lerner scandal.

“When the IRS scandal broke, Congress demanded answers from the agency’s top officials. Were they targeting groups for their religious and political beliefs?” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., wrote in an op-ed for The Daily Signal. “No, they said, it was just a few rogue employees in Ohio — if anything at all. Well, what happened to Lois Lerner’s emails? Oh, they were lost in a tragic hard drive crash.”

J. Russell George, the Treasury Department’s inspector general, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, telling lawmakers that IRS employees erased 422 backup tapes that housed 24,000 emails sent to and from Lerner. The erasure came a month after IRS officials had been told the emails were missing due to a hard drive crash, The Daily Signal previously reported.

One of the signatories on the Conservative Action Project memo, Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and president of Tea Party Patriots, released the following statement:

In our republic, it is the government that needs to be transparent about the ways it exercises its enormous power, and the American people are guaranteed privacy and the freedom to associate in the Bill of Rights. On behalf of our over 2 million supporters I want to sincerely thank the House of Representatives for taking action on this important issue to help protect and expand the First Amendment and I call on the U.S. Senate to join the House in passing this bill so it can be sent to the president’s desk as soon as possible.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., introduced on June 15 a companion bill to the legislation passed in the House. Scott’s legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.

“The IRS’ targeting of groups based on their political beliefs is totally unacceptable, and we must take concrete steps to ensure it never happens again,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

 

Copyright 2016 The Daily Signal

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