As a CPA who has practiced for four decades, I can say without hesitation that the IRS conduct was severely overreaching. The cherry-picking of organizations and the burdensome scrutiny that was administered by IRS official is utterly beyond the scope of anything they should, and are allowed, to do.
The likelihood that the White House coordinated with the IRS (as well as the media) is strengthened based on the well-researched timeline provided by Kim Strassel at the WSJ. She demonstrated that the IRS attacks on conservative groups happened at the same time the Obama Administration and the media began chiding activity by ominous “shadowy groups”. In one specific example, Americans for Prosperity — a conservative 501c4 — was derided by the White House and media while also simultaneously being subject to intense scrutiny by the IRS.
Part of the issue stems from the difference between a 501c3 and a 501c4. A 501c3 engages in charitable, educational or religious activity, and donations are tax-deductible. Not so with a 501c4, whose main purpose is social welfare, and whose donations are not deductible.
It must be noted that tax-exempt social-welfare groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code are allowed to engage in some political activity, but the primary focus of their efforts must remain promoting social welfare. That social-welfare activity can include lobbying and advocating for issues and legislation, but not outright political-campaign activity.
But some of the rules regarding 501c4s leave room for IRS officials to make judgment calls and probe individual groups for further information. This is how the IRS justified their targeting, except that they went way beyond what is normal and customary procedure.
In reality, the concept of being a “tax-exempt” organization really has little to no meaning. Despite what the Left has been trying to portray or insinuate, being “tax-exempt” does not mean tax evasion in any way, but rather that the particular organization simply generates no income. And if it does not generate income, it cannot be taxed. But there is nothing untoward about an organization being “tax-exempt” (except perhaps that the government laments this category as “lost revenue”).
A 501c4 operates by collecting money to do things in a collective manner, meaning as a group — as opposed to individually. This organizational status then allows them to function as a group and lets the IRS know that monies collected are for its own non-taxable (non-income generating) purposes.
The fact that there was a coordinated effort by the White House, media, and DCCC to try suggest that conservative-formed 501c4s might be operating in an illegal or clandestine manner is chilling. What’s worse is that low-information voters bought into the narrative because they cannot even recognize anymore whether or not they like a particular idea or position on an issue without knowing where it comes from.
We have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in this country guaranteed under the First Amendment. If the Left truly believed that their ideas were right and true, those ideas should survive on merit. But that is not what has happened in this country. To go beyond the usual “talking points” that happens in the normal course of politics and use a function of the government in such an overreaching manner is alarming. It is anathema to many Americans that the Left has gone to such great lengths to try to silence or intimidate those who may have viewpoints counter to that in the White House. Such actions are disdainful and they are not the American Way.