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Officials at the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) apparently conspired to target a conservative group for an investigation.
Eliana Johnson of the National Review has obtained copies of e-mails that show IRS official Lois Lerner supplied the FEC counsel general’s office with copies of applications for tax exempt status by the American Future Fund.
The e-mails may have been an attempt to influence the commission’s ruling on a complaint filed against the American Future Fund by the Minnesota Democratic Party. This action may have violated IRS policy because the agency is prohibited from sharing confidential information with the FEC.
The Fund had been financing advertising directed against Democratic candidates in Minnesota in 2008. The Democrats were alleging that the fund was actually a political action committee and in violation of election law. A Supreme Court ruling allows tax-exempt organizations called 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations to engage in political campaigns. Such groups need to be certified by the IRS or they are in violation of federal campaign laws.
Lerner is the IRS official who allegedly delayed applications from conservative or pro-Republican 501(c)(4) groups. The e-mails turned up during a US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee investigation of complaints against the IRS. The FEC general counsel recommended that the commission prosecute the American Future Fund for violation of campaign finance laws, but the commission disagreed and decided not to pursue the case.
If they are real, the e-mails indicate the IRS was targeting conservative groups and attempting to restrict their operations. Worse, the e-mails may show that some IRS officials are willing to share information in order to damage conservatives.
History of targeting conservatives
Lois Lerner has a history of targeting conservative groups and subjecting them to harassment. When she worked as an associate general counsel at the FEC, Lerner had a reputation of subjecting conservatives to intense scrutiny.
At the FEC, Lerner reportedly subjected donors to the Republican Party to more scrutiny than donors to Democratic causes. In 1988 she crossed swords with a House committee because she failed to investigate a Democratic donor. In 1996 Lerner opposed efforts to investigate Bill Clinton’s use of Air Force One in a presidential campaign.
Even though her history of targeting conservatives was well-known, Lerner was placed in charge of the IRS unit that was examining 501(c)(4)s. She remained there until being put on administrative leave in May.
IRS harasses citizen
Evidence that the IRS has harassed a citizen for political reasons has also surfaced.
Martha Boneta, a Virginia farmer who attracted nationwide support and attention from conservatives because of her battle against Fauquier County Zoning Officials, found herself audited by the IRS. The audit came after Boneta entered into a legal battle with a group called the Piedmont Environmental Council. Former IRS Commissioner Margaret Richardson is a board member of the council. Richardson is a friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
An IRS auditor asked Boneta questions that sounded similar to complaints raised against her by county zoning officials. She said the auditor asked if she was running a boarding facility at her farm. The county had filed a complaint against Boneta because she let college students stay on her farm. That violated zoning ordinances that barred residents of her neighborhood from renting rooms.
Boneta is locked in a dispute with the Piedmont Environmental Council over a conservation easement on her property. She uses the property as an organic farm.
What’s worse is that a county official who was directing the investigation of Boneta knew about the IRS audit and mentioned it to a journalist before Boneta learned of the tax agency’s actions. The journalist, Mark J. Fitzgibbons, who is also an attorney, noted that this action would be illegal because it violates the federal regulations that govern the IRS.
It looks like the IRS has a clear pattern of politically motivated investigations and audits. Worse, some people in the agency are willing to share information with others in an attempt to destroy or discredit conservatives. The politicization of the IRS is a bothersome development that could threaten free speech.