Friday, May 17, 2013

Seriously, IRS?
Steven Miller during a Congressional hearing regarding the recent IRS targeting of political groups.

According to the IRS, a 501(c)(3) organization is an organization that is "organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes." The IRS defines exempt purposes as follows:
The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.  The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency. [Emphasis added.]
In that light, it's curious that the IRS would withhold 501(c)(3) tax exempt status from the Coalition for Life of Iowa pending the Coalition's answers to the following:
2. Please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood are considered educational as defined under 501(c)(3). Organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) may present opinions with scientific or medical facts. Please explain in detail the activities at these prayer meetings. Also, please provide the percentage of time your organization spends on prayer groups as compared with the other activities of the organization.

3. In a phone conversation with POA it was asked about certain signs that may or may not be held up outside of a Planned Parenthood. Please explain in detail the signs that are being held up outside Planned Parenthood and explain how they are considered educational.
What does the phrase "opinions with scientific or medical facts" even mean? The Coalition can only present opinions "with facts"? Facts aren't opinions by definition. One of my pet peeves is actually when people say "In my opinion, [factual statement]." You know why? Because that's not an opinion.

But more to the point, why was the IRS even asking about prayers or signs specifically in terms of educational purposes? I'm no attorney (thank goodness) but my understanding of the "exempt purposes" of a 501(c)(3) organization is that they include educational purposes in addition to many other purposes, including, for example, religious ones. And while I strongly prefer that pro-lifers stick to secular arguments, that's not relevant to whether their purposes are considered exempt under federal law.

Apparently once the Coalition's attorneys responded, the IRS gave it up and gave the Coalition their tax exempt status. To me that further suggests the IRS knew its questions were baseless, but whatever. They let it go. That's great.

However, Coalition for Life of Iowa is one of several pro-life groups the IRS pressed with what then-acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller described as surprising and unusual questions. The IRS is already in the wake of an unfolding scandal regarding its targeting of conservative groups, so I guess these queries of pro-lifers are just additions to a list of IRS problems. Hardly reassuring, is it?

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