Okay- the IRS unfairly may have targeted the tea party, but when they did it to gay groups, no one cared. They also targeted liberal groups, too, but no one cared. Now, it's a big deal. Regardless, it has always been WRONG. I just find it fascinating that only when they did this to conservatives is there an outcry. **BTW, I lived in Kentucky and there were groups that had in their titles the words the IRS looked for, and those people were scary. Just my 2 cents. –Rob
Before the IRS harassed the Tea Party, it harassed gay rights groups
By Neil Irwin, Published: May 15, 2013
Before there was the Tea Party, there was Big Mama Rag, Inc. It was a radical feminist collective in the 1970s, and it devoted itself to lectures, seminars, a free library, and publishing a newspaper to voice its ideas, namely the Big Mama Rag. The group applied for nonprofit status from the IRS, and was initially refused for, among other reasons, “the articles, lectures, editorials, etc. promoting lesbianism.”
It wasn’t the end of the IRS taking a discriminatory tone toward nonprofit groups that dealt with homosexuality, however. In 1996, the Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Support System, a group devoted to helping young people deal with harassment and prejudice due to their sexuality, applied for tax exempt status. In response, an IRS official wrote that the group could be viewed as “tending to encourage or facilitate homosexual practice and propensities by the young and impressionable,” and asked the group to “describe in detail the procedures and safeguards in place to assure that counselors and participants do not encourage or facilitate homosexual practices or encourage the development of homosexual attitudes and propensities by minor individuals attending your programs.”Which brings us to the IRS scandal of the moment, in which tax officials screened applications for status as a social welfare organization based on whether they included “Tea Party” or “Patriots” in their name. The Inspector General’s report on the Tea Party scandal paints a picture of mid-level IRS employees being extraordinarily insensitive to the fact that their method of screening applications to form a “social welfare organization” for possible excessive political involvement was by definition rigged against the conservative groups that exploded in number in the early years of the Obama administration. Even after being told to stop using politically tilted methods of screening the groups for review in 2011, the Cincinnati IRS office charged with reviewing the applications reversed course in early 2012 and went back to screening based on the group’s name.
There are two big similarities with the IRS’s struggles over groups dealing with homosexuality in decades’ past.
The most clear-cut similarity is that when legal standards around nonprofit groups’ tax treatment is vague, it leaves far too much power in the hands of tax collection bureaucrats. In a 1980 ruling on the Big Mama Rag case, the U.S. Court of Appeals found against the IRS, writing that “applications for tax exemption must be evaluated . .. on the basis of criteria capable of neutral application. The standards may not be so imprecise that they afford latitude to individual IRS officials to pass judgment on the content and quality of an applicant’s views and goals and therefore to discriminate against those engaged in protected First Amendment activities.”
Sounds about right. But now, 23 years later, IRS officials have done it again. The Big Mama Rag case was about 501(c)3 tax status, the Tea Party scandal is about 501(c)4 social welfare organizations, but the original sin is the same: The standards for deciding whether a 501(c)4 is engaging in excessive political activity are impossibly vague, which inevitably assigns too much latitude to IRS staff to use their instincts and judgment. They are allowed to engage in political activity, but not as a “primary” activity. Which means the IRS has to decide what counts as political activity, and what counts as primary. As Brad Plumer notes here, the IRS itself calls this a “facts and circumstances” decision, which a whole range of factors are to be weighed against each other. “Politics is not an exact science,” the IRS’s own guidelines say, understating things.
But here’s a second similarity with the anti-gay IRS cases of the past, though this one is harder to prove. When standards are vague, it leaves too much room for IRS agents’ decisions to be colored by their own instincts. They’re human beings, after all.
FULL ARTICLE: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/15/before-the-irs-harassed-the-tea-party-it-harassed-gay-rights-groups/