Ever since Rep. Darrell Issa cried “Scandal!” upon discovering the IRS had targeted groups with the words “Tea Party” or “Conservative” in their title, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell has been beseeching Washington to take a look at the law that the IRS was operating under. Unfortunately, before he could make much headway, the conversation was co-opted by the revelation that the IRS also targeted groups with “Progressive” in their title.
Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings accused Rep. Issa of purposely withholding the information, in an attempt to make President Obama appear to have been targeting his enemies. And before Issa could say “impeachment” he was defending his rear flank when Rep. Cummings released the proof Issa had kept hidden.
The mud slinging was great “govertainment”, but lost in the depantsing of Rep. Issa was Lawrence O’Donnell’s important observation: the IRS was operating under the authority of a law that says any group given tax-exempt status from the IRS must be “exclusively” involved in “social welfare”. They can have no political involvement. The IRS testimony shows they changed the word “exclusively” to “primarily” and then ordered their agents to determine if the group applying for tax-exempt status had less than 50% of its activity involved with politics.
Today, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen (right) filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to “clarify” the IRS obligation under that law. Is the IRS supposed to deny every group involved in politics tax free status? Or are they supposed to determine if a group’s activities are less than 50% political?
What is the meaning of “exclusively”?
If the Court decides the agency was wrong when they changed “exclusively” to “primarily”, a whole lot of churches are going to have to get their noses out of politics, or start paying taxes. The Mormons, the Catholics and the Baptists alone would be on the hook for a tidy sum. Perhaps we could use the unexpected windfall to restore the Head Start cuts or to replace the food assistance funding in the Farm Bill the Republicans refused to pass. How is that for irony?
We’ll keep you updated on the proceedings.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.
We invite you to sign up for our new mailing list, and subscribe to The New Civil Rights Movement via email or RSS.