IRS Not Sure If Asking Tea Partiers About The Contents Of Their Prayers Is Inappropriate

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There’s so much coming out about the IRS scandal today that it’s hard to keep up with it all, but as the dust settles and we head into the weekend news cycle let this exchange during the Ways and Means hearing today serve as a case-in-point for just how disturbing this entire fiasco is.

Rep. Adam Schock asks the IRS commissioner why it is a tea party group was asked to provide details about the content of their prayers. The answer won’t exactly fill you with confidence:

Meanwhile, there’s been spin from the left about this suggesting that the IRS targeting may have been justified since there was such an uptick in filings for non-profit status as the tea party movement got going. There was certainly a wave of new filings, but if this targeting were in good faith, why was there a double standard for liberal groups?

And why were tiny tea party groups targeted, instead of the enormous 501(c)4’s which have a national impact on politics?

The AP reviewed 990 tax returns for nonprofit groups that were made publicly available and posted on both the Guidestar and the Foundation Center websites, searching between 2009 and 2011 under the terms “tea party,” ”patriot” and other terms frequently used by tea party groups. Several tea party groups also made their tax returns available to the AP. The returns detailed revenues and expenses for the groups, as well as other details. Donors’ identifies, however, are shielded from disclosure under federal tax code provisions.

Only 21 of the 93 groups reported annual gross receipts higher than $25,000 between 2009 and 2011, according to the AP review. The $25,000 figure is a threshold for the IRS because an organization’s financial strength and revenue sources are important factors in determining its tax-exempt status. Nonprofit groups reporting less than $25,000 a year are allowed to file a short-form, postcard tax return instead of a detailed filing — one indication of a low-budget operation.

The median income for all the groups was just $16,700 a year. That figure includes several tea party organizations that boasted million-dollar budgets and a cluster of others with more than $100,000 in annual revenues. The well-funded activist groups were led by the Georgia-based Tea Party Patriots Inc., the nation’s biggest tea party group, which started out with more than $700,000 in annual revenues in 2009 and grew to $20.2 million annually in 2012.

Going after the smaller groups makes it seem as though the motivation was sandbagging the organization of the tea party movement. Which, of course, is explicitly political.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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