Lawsuits Against IRS Piling Up

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

As the Internal Revenue Service scrambles to turn over documents to congressional staff probing its mishandling of applications for tax-exempt status, the agency is also busy going to court.

Tax Analysts, a nonprofit trade publisher based in Falls Church, Va., this month filed suit against the IRS seeking to accelerate the agency’s response to its May Freedom of Information Act request for all materials used since 2009 to train IRS personnel in the IRS exempt organizations office in Cincinnati, the unit at the center of the controversy over political targeting of nonprofits.

Separately, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based watchdog for enforcing separation of church and state, won a legal victory Aug. 20 when a U.S. district judge tossed out an IRS motion to dismiss its suit seeking to require the tax agency’s exempt organizations division to step up enforcement of rules against church politicking.

And last week, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., announced that he had joined with several campaign finance reform groups in a suit to force the Treasury Department and IRS to rescind an ambiguous regulation that tasks tax-agency mid-level employees with judging the extent to which nonprofit groups seeking tax-exempt status are political.

Tax Analysts, which has sued the IRS on transparency grounds multiple times beginning in 1972, in May performed its own analysis of nonprofit groups mentioned obliquely in a May audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The May report found the groups had been singled out for extra scrutiny that delayed processing of their applications.

After the publisher made its FOIA request in May, it “asked the IRS to expedite the process and it agreed, telling us that our request had `priority’ and that it would `make every effort to respond as quickly as possible,’ Tax Analysts President and Publisher Christopher Bergin wrote on his blog. “But on June 25, the IRS invoked a 10-day extension period, which extended the deadline to July 10. But in the same letter, the IRS also told us it wouldn't be meeting that deadline either, and unilaterally extended the response date to August 9.”

When the agency subsequently revised its promised delivery date to Sept. 20, the publisher felt it had no choice but to sue. “Apparently, and unfortunately, the greater the public interest, the more difficult it is to get expedited treatment to a request for information,” Bergin said. “A large reason the IRS is in the current trouble that it’s in is because it was playing its old, familiar, and apparently favorite, game of hide-the-ball. And it was playing that game with the United States Congress.”

In an interview with Government Executive, Bergin explained that what he hopes to add to the IRS scandal mix is “an objective analysis, not a political food fight.” Tax Analysts has “no desire to become Darrell Issa’s best friend,” he added, referring to the California Republican helping lead the probe of IRS as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The tax publisher’s experience with the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office has shown that it is “historically secret for many reasons, and is loath to release things. The IRS did something stupid,” Bergin added, “but I don’t yet see anything criminal. I am a huge supporter of the agency, so if the politicians do it a lot of damage, it is bad for the country. This information needs to get out there and get out now.”

In the Wisconsin case brought last December by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman on Aug. 19 wrote, “If it is true that the IRS has a policy of not enforcing the prohibition on campaigning against religious organizations, then the IRS is conferring a benefit on religious organizations (the ability to participate in political campaigns) that it denies to all other 501(c)(3) organizations, including the foundation.”

The foundation’s complaint notes that the law prohibits tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, from intervening or participating in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate. But “in recent years,” the foundation says, “churches and religious organizations have been blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering restrictions of §501(c)(3), including during the presidential election year of 2012.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.