Paul L. Caron
Dean


Monday, June 13, 2016

The IRS Scandal, Day 1131

House LogoH.R. Rep. No. 612, 114th Cong., 2d Sess.:

I. SUMMARY AND BACKGROUND

A. PURPOSE AND SUMMARY

H.R. 5053, as reported by the Committee on Ways and Means, would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from collecting the identity of donors who contribute to tax-exempt organizations. Under this legislation, a tax-exempt organization would be required to report only information on donors who contribute $5,000 or more during a single tax year and who are either an officer or director of the organization or one of its five highest paid employees. This information would be excluded from public disclosure.

B. BACKGROUND AND NEED FOR LEGISLATION

Current law requires section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations to report information on substantial donors. The IRS defines a substantial donor as a contributor who gives $5,000 or more to an organization in a calendar year. This information is reported on the Schedule B of the Form 990. The requirement to file a Form 990 applies to tax-exempt organizations generally, not just to section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations. Thus, the IRS has expanded the substantial donor reporting requirements to more than section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations. While the IRS does not make this information public, there have been instances where IRS employees have improperly accessed and released the Schedule B donor list. A notable example is the National Organization for Marriage, which had information from its Schedule B leaked in 2012 and the IRS subsequently paid $50,000 to settle a lawsuit with the organization claiming that the IRS improperly accessed the information. Certain states, including California, have moved to make Schedule B information public. The move to publicize Schedule B information was the subject of a recent lawsuit, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Kamala Harris, Attorney General for California. The Attorney General of California wanted to require that the Americans for Prosperity Foundation disclose its Schedule B to the California State Registry. In April 2016, the U.S. District Court ruled that requiring the organization to disclose its Schedule B was unconstitutional.

In recent years it was also revealed that the IRS used inappropriate criteria to target organizations applying for tax-exempt status. Additionally, the IRS is considering eliminating Schedule B entirely. H.R. 5053 would protect taxpayers from improper disclosure of Schedule B information, as well as limit the IRS’s ability to target organizations improperly. The legislation also eliminates a burdensome reporting requirement for tax-exempt organizations. ...

II. EXPLANATION OF THE BILL

A. PROHIBITION ON REQUIRING THAT IDENTITY OF CERTAIN CONTRIBUTORS TO SECTION 501(c) ORGANIZATIONS BE INCLUDED ON ANNUAL RETURNS (SEC. 32 OF THE BILL AND SEC. 6033 OF THE CODE)

PRESENT LAW

In general, organizations exempt from taxation under section 501(a) are required to file an annual return (Form 990 series), stating specifically the items of gross income, receipts, disbursements, and such other information as the Secretary may prescribe. An organization that is required to file an information return, but that has gross receipts of less than $200,000 during its taxable year, and total assets of less than $500,000 at the end of its taxable year, may file Form 990–EZ. Section 501(c)(3) private foundations are required to file Form 990–PF rather than Form 990. An organization that has not received a determination of its tax-exempt status, but that claims tax-exempt status under section 501(a), is subject to the same annual reporting requirements and exceptions as organizations that have received a tax-exemption determination.

On the applicable annual information return, organizations are required to report their gross income, information on their finances, functional expenses, compensation, activities, and other information required by the IRS in order to review the organization’s activities and operations during the previous taxable year and to review whether the organization continues to meet the statutory requirements for exemption. Examples of the information required by Form 990 include: (1) a statement of program accomplishments; (2) a description of the relationship of the organization’s activities to the accomplishment of the organization’s exempt purposes; (3) a description of payments to individuals, including compensation to officers and directors, highly paid employees and contractors, grants, and certain insider transactions and loans; and (4) disclosure of certain activities, such as expenses of conferences and conventions, political expenditures, compliance with public inspection requirements, and lobbying activities.

Form 990–PF requires, among other things, reporting of: the foundation’s gross income for the year; expenses attributable to such income; disbursements for exempt purposes; total contributions and gifts received and the names of all substantial contributors; names, addresses, and compensation of officers and directors; an itemized statement of securities and other assets held at the close of the year; an itemized statement of all grants made or approved; and information about whether the organization has complied with the restrictions applicable to private foundations (secs. 4941 through 4945).

An organization that files Form 990, Form 990–EZ, or Form 990– PF and receives during the year $5,000 or more (in money or property) from any one contributor generally must report such contributions on Schedule B (‘‘Schedule of Contributors’’). The Schedule B is open to public inspection for an organization that files Form 990–PF (private foundations) or a section 527 political organization that files Form 990 or Form 990–EZ. For all other Form 990 and Form 990–EZ filers, the names and addresses of contributors are not required to be made available for public inspection. All other information, including the amount of contributions, the description of noncash contributions, and any other information, is required to be made available for public inspection unless it clearly identifies the contributor. As a matter of practice, the IRS does not include Schedule B on the CD sets or any other form of media made available to the public. Instead, on a case-by-case basis, when an individual makes a request for a specific organization’s Schedule B, the IRS reviews and redacts the schedule in an effort to avoid divulging information that would identify any contributor. 

The requirement that an exempt organization file an annual information return (Form 990 or Form 990–EZ) does not apply to certain exempt organizations, including organizations (other than private foundations) the gross receipts of which in each taxable year normally are not more than $50,000. Organizations that are excused from filing an information return by reason of normally having gross receipts below such amount must furnish to the Secretary an annual notice (Form 990–N), in electronic form, containing certain basic information about the organization.

Other organizations exempt from the annual information return requirement include: churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches; the exclusively religious activities of any religious order; certain State institutions whose income is excluded from gross income under section 115; an interchurch organization of local units of a church; certain mission societies; certain church-affiliated elementary and high schools; and certain other organizations, including some that the IRS has relieved from the filing requirement pursuant to its statutory discretionary authority.6

REASONS FOR CHANGE

The Committee is concerned that the IRS is collecting sensitive information about donors who contribute to tax-exempt organizations. Although the IRS is required by law to maintain the confidentiality this information, the Committee is aware of instances in which the information was released to third parties. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned that the IRS might use donor information to penalize tax-exempt organizations or donors based on their political beliefs. By limiting the contribution information taxexempt organizations report to the IRS, the provision will protect taxpayers’ identities and help prevent inappropriate political targeting by the IRS. In addition, the Committee believes the Schedule B provides little administrative benefit to the IRS. In fact, senior leadership of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division has stated recently that the IRS is considering eliminating the Schedule B filing requirement.

EXPLANATION OF PROVISION

The provision limits the contributor information that must be reported by an organization described in section 501(c) on its annual information return. Under the provision, except as described below, the Secretary may not require an organization to report the name, address, or other identifying information of any contributor to the organization with respect to any contribution, grant, bequest, devise, or gift of money or property, regardless of amount.

The provision provides two exceptions to this prohibition. First, the Secretary is not prohibited from requiring the information described in section 6033(a)(2) relating to prohibited tax shelter transactions. Second, the Secretary is not prohibited from continuing to require reporting of contributions, grants, bequests, devises, or gifts of money or property in excess of $5,000 made by an officer or director of the organization (or an individual having powers to responsibilities similar to those of officers or directors) or by a covered employee. Covered employee means any employee (including any former employee) of the organization if the employee is one of the five highest compensated employees of the organization for the taxable year. For this purpose, an employee’s compensation includes compensation from the organization as well as any compensation paid with respect to the employment of such employee by any related person or governmental entity. A person or governmental entity is treated as related to the organization if it: (1) controls or is controlled by the organization; (2) is controlled by one or more persons that control the organization; (3) is a supported organization (as defined in section 509(f)(3)) during the taxable year with respect to the organization; (4) is a supporting organization described in section 509(a)(3) with respect to the organization; or (5) in the case of an organization that is a voluntary employees’ beneficiary association described in section 501(c)(9), establishes, maintains, or makes contributions to such voluntary employees’ beneficiary association.

The provision makes a conforming amendment to section 6033(b), which describes certain information that a section 501(c)(3) organization must include on its annual information return. ...

VII. DISSENTING VIEWS

We oppose H.R. 5053, which would prohibit the Secretary of the Treasury from collecting the name, address, or other identifying information of contributors to any tax-exempt, 501(c) organization except in limited circumstances. This bill would open the floodgates for unlimited, anonymous, unaccountable money to pour into U.S. elections—including possibly from foreign sources.

Under present law, certain 501(c) organizations must attach to their annual information returns (IRS Forms 990) a list (Schedule B) of donors who contribute $5,000 or more during the year (‘‘substantial contributors’’). The Schedule B is kept confidential by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and is not made public.

Certain 501(c) organizations, such as social welfare organizations, are permitted to engage in political activity. These politically active 501(c)(4) organizations are required to disclose their substantial contributors to the IRS but are not required to disclose them to the public.

There has been a sharp rise in undisclosed money being spent by tax-exempt groups in federal elections since the Supreme Court issued its 2010 Citizens United decision. This bill would make it even easier for donors to anonymously funnel money in support of political candidates. Already in this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, political spending by tax-exempt groups is five times the amount spent at this point during the 2012 election cycle.

It is no secret as to why Republicans are working to keep donors a secret: the three largest spenders from 2012—representing fully 51% of the total—include Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS (that spent $71 million); the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (that spent $36 million); and the Koch Brothers’ American Future Fund (that spent $25 million). It is no surprise the Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC sent a letter to Republican Members on the day of the markup urging them to support the bill. Simply put, H.R. 5053 does nothing more than solidify the secrecy around the Republicans’ big campaign efforts.

The bill also potentially opens the door for unlimited, secret money from foreign governments or individuals to be funneled into our elections. Currently, foreign money cannot be given or spent in our elections. The only real protection we have against the use of foreign money by politically active social welfare organizations is that they must disclose their substantial contributors to the IRS. This requirement means that tax-exempt, 501(c)(4) groups know they can be held accountable if they illegally spend foreign money in federal elections. Campaign finance reform groups opposing this bill warned that, if donor disclosure to the IRS is eliminated, no one will know whether a social welfare organization has received foreign funds and is illegally spending them in our elections.

We should not support efforts to reduce transparency and make it easier for donors to pour unlimited funds into political campaigns. For these reasons, we oppose this bill.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2016/06/the-irs-scandal-day-1131.html

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Comments

Professor, would you kindly read this for us and in 25 words or less, tell us what it says? If a judge in my jurisdiction was forced to read this THING, I would be immediately taken into custody.

Posted by: Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King | Jun 13, 2016 1:35:03 PM