TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, March 24, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1415:  ‘Media Attention’ And IRS Abuse

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal op-ed: ‘Media Attention’ and IRS Abuse: A Simple Rule Fix Could End Partisan Targeting Tomorrow, by John J. (President & CEO, Cause of Action Institute):

The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Americans for their political views may have ended with the Obama administration — or even with its exposure in 2013. But it could easily recur. Even now, an internal IRS rule singles out applicants for nonprofit status who might be tied to anything newsworthy.

The genesis of the targeting scandal was Section 7.29.3 of the Internal Revenue Manual. As noted in a report my organization is issuing Wednesday, this manual dictates how IRS employees handle everything from customer service to criminal investigations. This particular section tells them to flag for further review any application for tax-exempt status that might “attract media or Congressional attention.”

That’s a broad, vague and subjective command that career IRS employees are nevertheless required to follow. Emails between IRS personnel make clear that low-level employees were guided by this rule throughout the targeting scandal. They repeatedly cited “media attention” on the Tea Party as the reason to single out and delay applications from conservative groups.

This rule means that IRS enforcement reflects the ideological biases of the media. Aside from a small number of groups related to the Occupy Wall Street movement and the defunct advocacy group Acorn, libertarian and free-market groups were almost exclusively targeted.

These provisions of the IRS manual have nothing to do with the merits of a nonprofit application and everything to do with keeping the agency from looking bad. It is inappropriate for a group’s tax-exempt status to be deep-sixed because of negative publicity. In the targeting scandal, this approach allowed partisan concerns to overtake the application process, resulting in the unfair treatment of political viewpoints at odds with the Obama administration.

Equal justice under the law demands that the IRS abandon the “newsworthy” criterion. To date, however, the agency has promised only to stop making lists of targeted groups “until further notice.” Even if the halt were permanent, it wouldn’t be enough. IRS officials are still required to follow the manual and pull high-profile applications for enhanced scrutiny.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/03/the-irs-scandal-day-1416media-attention-and-irs-abuse.html

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Comments

Given the arbitrary nature of how this rule was applied under the prior administration, could a knowledgeable lawyer explain to me how it *doesn't* violate equal protection? And how the application of the rule isn't also viewpoint discrimination?

Posted by: MM | Mar 24, 2017 7:40:12 AM