« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - Ignore or delay, and maybe they'll go away

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  Steven Miller may have lost his job, but he hasn’t lost the arrogance of someone who works for the Internal Revenue Service. He told a congressional investigation that tax-exempt applications were mishandled, but not because of a political agenda. If only the IRS would give you the benefit of the doubt if you were ever being audited. Miller is not believable.

Many groups that wanted tax-exempt status have come forward to tell their stories. Most are small organizations with limited budgets; they’re not able to win a long, drawn out fight with the IRS. There’s a pattern, and the common denominator is delay. All of these groups needed a favorable ruling from the IRS. They needed the government to do something for them. In some cases nothing happened. Since they couldn’t get a decision,many decided to operate as for-profits instead. If donors can’t write off the donations, a group’s fundraising prospects are limited.


One group in Alabama submitted their application and waited more than a year. Nothing. Their secretary was told ‘we’ll get to it when we’re ready’ when she asked about the group’s case. When their application finally came up, the IRS made an illegal request for the group’s donor list.

A Fresno tea-party group paid $400 extra to have their application fast tracked at the IRA… 13-months later, nothing happened. They were told their file was lost, and they’d have to start the process over again.

An Iowa pro-life group faced a long delay, and then was told to promise not to picket outside Planned Parenthood if they wanted their tax-exempt application approved.

A Texas group was asked about the prayer meetings they help organize.

A South Carolina tax party group says resumes and personal information about their board of directors and donors were requested.

Two things that have not been widely reported: First, the storyline that this is the work of low-level employees working out of the Cincinnati office isn’t right. Cincinnati handled all of the non-profit / tax exempt applications; this is national-not local. And after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, all reviews of non-profits stopped for nearly a year. The IRS claims it was reviewing the ruling and changing its approvals. It was actually delaying groups that wanted to advocate on political issues in months leading up to a congressional election.

The IRS had a strategy here. Ask for personal information that isn’t allowed, and some of these groups will go away. Delay or ignore them, and others won’t persevere. Draw out the approval time – and these groups are silenced. The timing is important here. Making these groups wait for a year or more is significant; it’s about the length of a mid-term election cycle.

Chris Conley