Magazine article The Christian Century

IRS 'Targeting' Angers Conservative Groups

Magazine article The Christian Century

IRS 'Targeting' Angers Conservative Groups

Article excerpt

Disclosures that the Internal Revenue Service conducted special scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax exemption, including groups associated with Billy Graham, led the Obama administration in May to oust the agency's acting director and to announce that the Justice Department has begun a criminal investigation.

"If you've got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous," said Obama, who stated he would "not tolerate" any such abuse of power by the IRS.

On May 17, at the first of three congressional hearings on the matter, Steven Miller, who resigned under pressure as acting director, defended the federal tax agency as overwhelmed by "social welfare" applications for exemption. But he also acknowledged at one point, "I can say, generally, we provided horrible customer service here."

But numerous Republican lawmakers and some Democrats termed the agency's actions biased and intolerable.

A U.S. Treasury Inspector General audit released May 14 said the IRS had flagged dozens of conservative organizations that used terms such as tea party to determine how much political activity exceeded the limited amounts allowed the social welfare groups. The audit said "inappropriate criteria" were used.

Many of the nearly 300 organizations were bombarded with extensive questionnaires about activities. As a result, some applications languished for years, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Some conservative religious groups have raised questions about whether they were unfairly targeted.

Evangelist Franklin Graham said both, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the relief group Samaritan's Purse were audited by the IRS. In a May 14 letter to President Obama, Graham wrote that the two organizations were notified last September that the IRS would review their records for the 2010 tax year.

The IRS inquiry, he noted, occurred months after the BGEA ran ads in April 2012 supporting a North Carolina amendment that banned same-sex marriage. The BGEA also ran ads last fall urging voters to consider candidates who make decisions based on "biblical principles and support the nation of Israel."

The IRS audits were conducted on October 15 at Samaritan's Purse; an international relief organization based in Boone, North Carolina, and on October 29 at the BGEA, in Charlotte.

"I am bringing this to your attention because I believe that someone in the administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us," wrote Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham. …

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