In December 2008, six weeks after Barack Obama was elected President, I participated in a panel on “The Methods of Financing and Sometimes Regulating Political Speech” at the annual conference of the Council of Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) in Chicago. One of other panelists was Lois Lerner, who was then and still is the Director of Exempt Organizations (i.e., nonprofits) for the IRS. You may recognize her name – she has been getting a lot of attention this week in the news stories about the IRS’s focus on conservative groups.
During her presentation, Ms. Lerner indicated that the IRS intended to shift its focus away from 501(c)(3)s – which had been the subject of the IRS’s Political Activities Compliance Initiative – to 501(c)(4)s. In particular, she said the IRS was going to focus going forward on whether (c)(4)s were complying with the rules on political and election activity, including the requirement that their primary purpose be social welfare rather than election activity. Her Power Point presentation from the seminar, which I still have, made the same point. We took that warning seriously, and conveyed it our nonprofit clients.
It has been fascinating and disturbing this week to see Lerner and the IRS finally admit how that program has been carried out in practice in the intervening period. Even my liberal friends (and you know who you are!) have found it outrageous that this program was used to target and harass groups opposed to the Obama Administration. Shame.
Click here to read Doug’s article “Looking Behind the IRS Scandal” in the Daily Report, May 22, 2013