TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Helge: Why The IRS Denies Tax Exemption To 501(c)(3) Applicants

Terri Lynn Helge (Texas A&M), Rejecting Charity: Why the IRS Denies Tax Exemption to 501(C)(3) Applicants, 14 Pitt. Tax. Rev. 1 (2016):

New charitable organizations generally must file an application for exemption (Form 1023) and await approval from the Internal Revenue Service. Unfortunately, the criteria the Internal Revenue Service uses to evaluate applications has not always been transparent. If an application is approved, the Internal Revenue Service determination letter and the application for exemption are required to be made publicly available and can be requested from the Internal Revenue Service or the organization itself. Prior to 2004, in the case of denials, neither the application nor the Internal Revenue Service’s correspondence setting forth its rationale for the denial were made publicly available.

This project is the first of its kind. While others have commented on isolated denial letters, this study is the first to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the Internal Revenue Service denial letters issued from when they first became available in 2004 through January 31, 2017.

Table 1B

In conducting this project, I examined 603 determination letters in which the Internal Revenue Service denied exemption to an applicant seeking recognition as charitable organizations described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This project looks in-depth at the basis on which the Internal Revenue Service denied exemption to these applicants.

To provide background for the basis of on which the Internal Revenue Service reviews exemption applications for charitable applicants, Part I of this article describes the requirements to obtain federal tax exemption as a charitable organization. In Part II of this article, I explain the methodology and the process by which I arrived at the data I present. Part III presents the data from my study and my analysis of the manner in which the Internal Revenue Service applies the five-part test for exemption in its review of the applicants who were denied exemption. The data pays particularly close attention to the evidence used by the Internal Revenue Service to support its denial of tax-exempt status. In Part IV of this article, I discuss the implications of my findings on the streamlined application process implemented by the Internal Revenue Service in July 2014. My data identifies concerns with the streamlined exemption process, and I suggest revisions that should be considered to the streamlined exemption process to make it more reliable.

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