Friends of Abe, a conservative group in liberal Hollywood has been waiting for their 501(c)(3) tax exempt application to be approved for approximately two years, and like the tea party groups that were targeted by the IRS, they have also been presented with detailed questionnaires about their activities, and asked to provide the IRS with access to their security-protected website, which would allow them to see their highly protected membership list.
The New York Times has the exclusive story.
A collection of perhaps 1,500 right-leaning players in the entertainment industry, Friends of Abe keeps a low profile and fiercely protects its membership list, to avoid what it presumes would result in a sort of 21st-century blacklist, albeit on the other side of the partisan spectrum.
Now the Internal Revenue Service is reviewing the group’s activities in connection with its application for tax-exempt status. Last week, federal tax authorities presented the group with a 10-point request for detailed information about its meetings with politicians like Paul D. Ryan, Thaddeus McCotter and Herman Cain, among other matters, according to people briefed on the inquiry.
The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the organization’s confidentiality strictures, and to avoid complicating discussions with the I.R.S.
Those people said that the application had been under review for roughly two years, and had at one point included a demand — which was not met — for enhanced access to the group’s security-protected website, which would have revealed member names. Tax experts said that an organization’s membership list is information that would not typically be required. The I.R.S. already had access to the site’s basic levels, a request it considers routine for applications for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
Friends of Abe — the name refers to Abraham Lincoln — has strongly discouraged the naming of its members. That policy even prohibits the use of cameras at group events, to avoid the unwilling identification of all but a few associates — the actors Gary Sinise, Jon Voight and Kelsey Grammer, or the writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, for instance — who have spoken openly about their conservative political views.
The Friends of Abe is seeking a 501(c)(3) tax status that would let donors claim a tax deduction, but prohibits partisan activity.
Jeremy Boreing, executive director of Friends of Abe, told the NYTs that “it’s been a long process,” and the “Friends of Abe has absolutely no political agenda.”
They are hoping to receive tax-exempt status similar to that of the left-wing People for the American Way Foundation.
People for the American Way, Mr. Lear’s group, stands as something of a liberal counterpart to Friends of Abe, though the organization is far larger, with an affiliate that spends millions of dollars a year on issue advocacy in Washington and beyond. But the entertainment industry has been crisscrossed by progressive groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, which maintains a tax-exempt educational adjunct under the 501(c)(3) provision, and includes the producer Laurie David and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio among its trustees. Another, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, is a nonprofit that supports marriage rights for gay people and counts the producer Bruce Cohen and the writer Dustin Lance Black among its founders.
In the questionnaire, IRS officials asked about “membership criteria and social events, according to the people briefed on the matter, with pointed queries about meetings with a Los Angeles mayoral candidate, Kevin James, and Republican politicians like Mr. Ryan, Mr. Cain and Rick Santorum.”
Officials particularly wanted to know why a speech introducing Mr. Cain at a Friends of Abe event in November 2011 — when he was a presidential candidate — should not be regarded as potentially prohibited political campaign support.
While tax-exempt groups are permitted to invite candidates to speak at events, it is not uncommon for the I.R.S. to scrutinize such activities to determine whether they cross the line into partisan election activity. One issue is whether the organization invites all the qualified candidates.
Marcus S. Owens, a former director of the I.R.S.’s exempt organizations division said, “the I.R.S. would say that if you are inviting only conservative candidates, that’s a problem. But it’s never really been litigated.”
I wonder why?
In July of 2012, The People For The American Way held a gala in honor its founder, Norman Lear and the Young Elected Officials Network (which consists of nearly 700 progressive officeholders between 18 and 35 years of age.) Nancy Pelosi gave a very political speech at the gala at a time when she was running for reelection in California.
“Together, we will fight for a new politics free from special interest money. We will ‘DARE’ – to disclose, amend, reform, and elect reformers. We must fight for disclosure, to pass the DISCLOSE Act and get unlimited, secret, special interest money out of our politics. We must amend our Constitution to overturn the Citizens United decision that strengthens the hands of special interests at the expense of the people’s interest. We must fight for reform to empower the grassroots with a greater role in our elections and with citizen funding for campaigns. We must elect reform-minded leaders to fight for the American dream. Our founders established a democracy – not a plutocracy. We must make certain that the votes of the many determine the outcome of our elections, not the checkbooks of the few. We must fight voter suppression and protect the right of every citizen to vote and every vote to be counted. I believe the attempt to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress is really an attempt to weaken his strong voice in fighting voter suppression.”
Would the IRS view that as an example of “potentially prohibited political campaign support?” Did the People for the American Way send invitations to all qualified candidates – including conservatives to speak at the gala to balance out Pelosi and the progressive Young Elected Officials Network? If not, why is the IRS not interested in “scrutinizing” them?
Why is it only “a problem” when conservative groups engage in what can arguably be called partisan politics?