This week the IRS announced that is investigating the United Church of Christ, Senator Obama’s home congregation, for campaigning on his behalf at their annual meeting last year to determine if the group acted non-nonprofity – meaning against the tax code regulation that bars nonprofits from supporting political candidates. Here is an article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy explaining the kerfuffle.
I recall a similar incident in 2004 when near the end of the election cycle the IRS also loudly announced that it would be investigating the NAACP for a speech made by its chair Julian Bond. According to the IRS, the investigation was brought to look into “Specifically in a speech made by Chairman Julian Bond, “in which Mr. Bond condemned the administration policies of George W. Bush on education, the economy and the war in Iraq.”
If condemning the Bush Administration is a crime, then most of America is going to jail.
The investigation of the NAACP took two years and ended up with no action on the part of the IRS, although it cost the NAACP an enormous amount in time and legal fees. As reported in the Chronicle last year, the IRS has beefed up its investigation arm, adding 100 investigators to bring the total to a little over nine hundred.
So, one has to wonder about two things based on the IRS’ actions:
1. Is the timing of the announcement of the Obama investigation intended to suppress support for and activity on behalf of his candidacy for president. And, if the Republicans are going to use petty, little levers like this to hold onto power, watch out come September
2. When is there going to be a real conversation about updating the tax code to better reflect changes in the sector and in politics. If every one investigator is responsible for around 800 nonprofit groups, does looking into campaign fliers being distributed outside of a church really make good sense? What about refining the tax code to deal with the blending of nonprofit and for profit lines, or spending more investigative time weeding out the really bad apples (there are a few, alas) who give the rest of us a bad name.
This is at best a silly use of tax payer money, or at worst a pattern of political intimidation by this administration.