The rolling sideshow of hearings and revelations about the IRS department responsible for reviewing organizations applying for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status might not ever get around to dealing with a larger question: Why were some little organizations steamrolled with questions and scrutiny, while major national operations apparently got a pass?
As ProPublica pointed out in a long piece examining what it characterized as dysfunction at the IRS, a review by the Inspector General said that there was insufficient oversight of 200 lower-level employees responsible for examining more than 60,000 nonprofit applications annually.
“The main question raised…is how the Cincinnati office and superiors in Washington could have gotten it so wrong,” the story notes. “The audit shows no evidence that these workers even looked at records from the Federal Election Commission to vet much larger groups that spent hundreds of thousands and even millions in anonymous money to run election ads.”
The tax-exempts that didn’t come under scrutiny, as The New York Times points out, included mega-fundraisers from both sides of the political spectrum, such as Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategy, Karl Rove’s organization, and the Democratic-oriented Priorities USA.
Organizations are supposed to operate “exclusively” for the promotion of social welfare in order to qualify as a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt group. At least, that’s what the tax code says. But the IRS has given a pass to groups that can show they are not “primarily engaged” in election-related activities.
Admit it: Regardless of where you stand politically, isn’t this one area where you’d like to see the IRS enforce the very letter of the tax code?