IRS says it is probing 60 tax-exempt groups for potential political violations

Friday, October 29th 2004, 8:14 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ About 60 charities, churches and other tax-exempt groups are being investigated for potentially breaking federal rules that bar them from participating in political activity, the Internal Revenue Service said Friday.

Such violations would threaten their tax-exempt status, the IRS said.

The investigations involve guidelines for 501(c)(3) groups, which grant tax-exempt status so long as organizations do not participate in political activities like endorsing candidates or making campaign donations.

By law, the IRS cannot reveal names or details of investigations. It did reveal that about 20 of the groups being looked into were churches.

Heightened concerns about improper political activities this election season warranted the creation of a committee of career civil servants to look into potential political violations by tax-exempt groups, according to the agency.

Of over 100 reports received during the past couple months, that committee found 60 cases that merited further scrutiny, the IRS said.

``Our obligation is to enforce the law, which prohibits all charities from engaging in political activities,'' IRS Commissioner Mark Everson said in a statement Friday.

The disclosure from the IRS came a day after Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, said the IRS was investigating his group after he criticized President Bush.

Documents released Thursday by the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said IRS agents were investigating Bond's keynote address July 11 at the NAACP's annual convention in Philadelphia.

An ``Information Document Request'' from the IRS said Bond in his remarks ``condemned the administration policies of George W. Bush on education, the economy and the war in Iraq.''

Bond contends the timing of the probe gave the appearance it was politically motivated, a charge the IRS vehemently denied.

``What seems enormously outrageous to us are the facts that condemnation and criticism are reasons that we should lose our tax exemption,'' Bond said in a conference call Friday. He maintained the speech was nonpartisan even though it was critical of Bush.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry asked the Justice Department's civil rights division to conduct its own investigation into the IRS actions.

``If the timing of this process leads some to believe politics is at play, it could have a chilling impact on African-Americans' participation in the American political process,'' Kerry said in a letter Friday to assistant attorney general R. Alexander Acosta.

An IRS ``fact sheet'' provided by the agency Friday noted, ``Even activities that encourage people to vote for or against a particular candidate on the basis of nonpartisan criteria violate the political campaign prohibition.''

During his remarks in Philadelphia, Bond criticized Bush's judicial appointments and placed blame for the federal budget deficit ``squarely on the tax giveaways for the rich.''

According to a transcript provided by NAACP aides, Bond encouraged blacks to vote, adding, ``We know that if whites and nonwhites vote in the same percentages as they did in 2000, Bush will be re-defeated by 3 million votes.''