Law protects identity of employee behind illegal release of pro-marriage group’s donors.
The House Ways and Means Committee has solved the mystery of which Internal Revenue Service employee in 2012 allegedly violated the law by releasing the donor list of the conservative National Organization for Marriage to its political opposite number, the Human Rights Campaign.
But because of the tax code’s privacy protections, the panel is unable to release the employee’s name and can only unveil the name of a third party who allegedly transferred the document to the competing nonprofit.
The issue was highlighted this June when, at the start of congressional probes of the controversy over the IRS Exempt Organizations division’s improper extra scrutiny of conservative nonprofit groups, a witness from the pro-marriage group complained that in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign, its mandatory IRS Form 990 Schedule B donor list was turned over to a group that presses gay and lesbian rights.
“Through our investigation, we identified that Matthew Meisel released the document to the Human Rights Campaign,” a committee spokeswoman told Government Executive in an email. But “how/when/who gave the document to Meisel is all” protected under Section 6103. “We do know the document is from the IRS.”
Meisel, a former employee of Bain Capital, did not respond to inquiries. Neither did the Human Rights Campaign.
The story was first reported by National Review Online. “I am astounded at the ease by which an individual was able to obtain and release confidential information including private citizens’ names and addresses,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., told a reporter. “What makes the situation even worse is that the law, intended to protect taxpayers, is being used as a shield for those that perpetrate this wrongdoing.”
John Eastman, chairman of the board of the National Organization for Marriage, which is suing the IRS after unsuccessful efforts to obtain the leaker’s identity under the Freedom of Information Act, told Government Executive, “The IRS has taken the position that disclosing the identity of the employee who appears to have committed a felony against us would itself violate the confidentiality of the IRS code he violated.”
Eastman said he thinks the leak was “part of an overall campaign to harass and intimate our donors into silence, as we allege in our lawsuit. It was used to file a frivolous complaint against us before the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which cost us $50,000 to respond.” He also said he believes that the release of his donors’ names has caused many donors to cut back on giving “because of concerns about confidentiality.”
During a Ways and Means hearing this June, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., mentioned that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration had stated that he had already investigated the leak and taken disciplinary action. Both TIGTA and the IRS declined comment.
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