Senators Accuse IRS of Harassing Conservative Watchdog With Politically Driven Audit

GOP senators are pressing the IRS over what they say is a politically-driven audit of a conservative watchdog that scrutinized the Biden administration.
Senators Accuse IRS of Harassing Conservative Watchdog With Politically Driven Audit
The Internal Revenue Service building in Washington. on June 28, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Tom Ozimek

Two Republican senators have accused the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of carrying out a politically motivated audit of a tax-exempt conservative watchdog, drawing comparisons to an Obama-era IRS targeting scandal.

The American Accountability Foundation (AAF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to scrutinizing public leaders and institutions (including the IRS), is now itself under scrutiny as the IRS examines its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, according to prior reporting by The Epoch Times.

As part of its probe into the conservative group, the IRS has requested extensive documents, including all external communications related to its activities.

AAF President Tom Jones said earlier he believes this move by the IRS is a deliberate politically motivated crackdown against the organization, in part as retaliation for the watchdog’s efforts to draw the public’s attention to the radicalism of some of President Joe Biden’s administrative nominees that led their nominations to fail.

And now, several GOP senators have jumped into the fray, demanding answers from the IRS about why it is targeting the conservative watchdog.

“The IRS is once again harassing conservative groups,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) said in a post on X, while sharing a letter he and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) wrote to IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, demanding an explanation.

“It should be no surprise to see Joe Biden borrowing directly from the Obama playbook,” Mr. Vance added, referring to a scandal dating back to 2017 in which the IRS admitted that it subjected conservative groups to increased scrutiny and delays when they applied for tax-exempt status.

“I won’t stand for it,” Mr. Vance continued, adding that he and Mr. Braun are demanding answers “on this clear weaponization of our government.”

The IRS did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.

AAF Audit Recalls ‘Ugly Chapter’ of IRS

The watchdog has a history of putting a number of President Biden’s nominees under the microscope, bringing public attention to some of their questionable statements and circumstances, while taking credit for the individuals’ eventual decisions to withdraw their candidacies.

This has put the AAF into the Biden administration’s crosshairs, according to the group’s president.

“This sudden request by the IRS is not random,” Mr. Jones said in a statement. The fact that the IRS is demanding records from the group that relate to current public elected officials is “clearly a sign that they are targeting our research and education activities,” he added.

“It’s a deliberate attempt to punish and suppress AAF’s activities. It is surely no coincidence that AAF—the very organization that exposed the weaponization of the IRS—is now the target of it,” Mr. Jones added.

In their letter to the IRS chief, Messrs. Braun and Vance said that the IRS’s decision to target the AAF with an audit over its tax-exempt status lack an obvious legal rationale, while citing public reporting that suggests the IRS has been lobbied by Democrat senators to probe the group’s tax-exempt status.

According to 176 pages of correspondence that the AAF obtained and released to the public last year, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) had pressured the IRS to investigate the conservative organization Turning Point USA.

Mr. Whitehouse also called on the IRS to target the tax-exempt status of AAF partner organization, the Conservative Partnership Institute, which the Democrat lawmaker’s office said was part of a “right-wing dark-money network seeking to undermine the future of democratic elections in the United States” and was using its activities to help the Republican Party.

The two GOP senators also pointed to what they called an “ugly chapter” in the IRS’s history, during which the IRS targeted conservative groups for increased scrutiny under the Obama administration.

“This enforcement action is already drawing comparisons to the previous IRS targeting scandal,” the senators wrote.

They demanded that the IRS provide information as to whether IRS employees discussed the AAF’s political orientation in connection with the audit. They also want to know why the IRS picked this particular group for an enforcement action and whether the IRS considered but declined to pursue audits of left-leaning groups over the past six months.

‘Scorn’ Heaped on the IRS

In 2017, the IRS ended up admitting that it was wrong when it based screenings of the groups’ applications for tax-exempt status on their names, which included words like “Tea Party” or “patriots” on application forms.

At the time, the IRS also acknowledged that it had acted inappropriately when it subjected the groups to increased scrutiny and delays, while demanding unnecessary information from them.

Depending on the type of exemption sought, groups applying for tax-exempt status under federal law may engage in limited amounts of political activity. Some experts have said that this fact—along with vague rules—can make it difficult for IRS agents to tell which groups overstep and become ineligible for exemption.

The AAF said that the latest action by the IRS is part of a pattern of federal agencies being “weaponized” under the Biden administration.

The watchdog gave several examples, like the infamous October 2021 memo by Attorney General Merrick Garland that instructed the FBI to keep tabs on parents protesting leftist school policies or a January 2023 FBI memo discussing how to spy on Catholics.

“We demand that this abuses is put to an end at once,” Mr. Jones said in a statement. “Our Constitution and Declaration of Independence guarantee our God-given right to speak the truth about the powerful without being punished and harassed.”

Attorney Cleta Mitchell compared the IRS audit of the AAF to the agency’s unfair targeting of conservative groups during the Obama presidency.

“As the attorney for many conservative, Tea Party groups targeted and harassed by the Obama IRS a decade ago, this certainly smacks of the exact same tactics used by the IRS then … and apparently being used again now against AAF,” Ms. Mitchell said in a statement.

“Before the IRS starts down this road again, it would be worth remembering the scorn heaped upon it the last time it allowed itself to be used as a pawn by a liberal in the White House,” she added.

The AAF has a history of subjecting President Biden’s various nominees to close scrutiny.

For instance, the watchdog ran billboards, newspaper ads, and digital ads informing the American public about President Biden’s FCC chair nominee, Gigi Sohn, who ended up pulling her nomination.

Mr. Jones said in an earlier statement that the AAF had spent about a year and a half exposing Ms. Sohn to be “radical, extremist, hyper-partisan, with serious questions looming over her nomination,” in part due to what he described as her anti-police rhetoric.

The watchdog also took a critical stance on the nomination of Ann Carlson for the position of National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator, with the group citing her “radical” statements and questioning her finances.

Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.
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