IRS: We didn’t politically discriminate when auditing Israel-affiliated groups

US tax collecting service pushes back against claims that its auditing practices have become politicized.

June 25, 2013 23:16
2 minute read.
Internal Revenue Service IRS Building in Washington

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Building in Washington 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – Releasing a new set of documents this week, the Internal Revenue Service has asserted that its auditing practices are not as politicized as some have come to believe, ever since revelations last month that conservative groups might have earned special attention by the tax collecting service.

Pushing back against those claims of misconduct with the release of 15 redacted documents headed “Be On the Lookout,” the IRS attempted to show that its auditing of various types of groups – including pro-Israel organizations, groups whose activities classify as “occupied territory advocacy,” and groups flagged by other key terms such as “medical marijuana” and “progressive” – was not specifically targeting one political philosophy over another.

The Bloomberg news agency reported Monday that one progressive Jewish group called Ameinu experienced a five-year delay after it applied for 501(c)3 tax-exemption status.

“I think they [the IRS] were painting with a broad brush, with worries about Middle East ties to terrorism,” Hiam Simon, national director of Ameinu, told Bloomberg. “I don’t think it was caused by malice.

Ignorance is too strong a word, too. They simply weren’t nuanced enough or careful enough.”

Concerning similar complaints from another Israel advocacy organization called Z Street, Jon Waddell, manager of the Exempt Organizations Determinations Group at the IRS, wrote that Simon’s concerns were generally valid.

“Israel is one of many Middle Eastern countries that have a ‘higher risk of terrorism,’” said Waddell.

“A referral to TAG [the Touch and Go Group, a unit in the IRS’s Cincinnati branch] is appropriate whenever an application mentions providing resources to organizations in a country with a higher risk of terrorism,” he said.

But a look at the IRS code on tax-exemption procedures clarifies what Waddell means by “higher risk of terrorism.”

Procedure requires that Waddell and his team take into account the activities of an organization that are deemed to place resources in danger. This includes activities or grants in foreign countries flagged by the State Department as having “trends” in terrorism.

Those flags automatically prompt legal procedures, such as questioning through further paperwork.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have reacted with angst that progressives were also targeted by the IRS, mixed with a sigh of relief that the controversy may not reveal a completely partisan scheme. Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, continue to push for investigations into the service.

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