A series of emails between a senior Internal Revenue Service official and an attorney in the Federal Election Commission’s general counsel’s office suggests the two agencies may have “colluded” in targeting conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, according to a new report in National Review Online.
The report is based on emails obtained exclusively by NRO and the House Ways and Means Committee.
Correspondences between embattled IRS official Lois Lerner, who earlier this year invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and an FEC attorney suggest “the discrimination of conservative groups extended beyond the IRS and into the FEC,” NRO’s Eliana Johnson wrote.
Lerner worked for the FEC from 1986 to 1995. She became famous within the agency for her “aggressive” investigation of conservative groups.
An attorney from the FEC’s “enforcement division in at least one case sought and received tax information about the status of a conservative group, the American Future Fund, before recommending that the commission prosecute it for violations of campaign-finance law,” Johnson added.
The FEC attorney wrote in an email to Lerner in February 2009: “Several months ago . . . I spoke with you about the American Future Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization that had submitted an exemption application the IRS [sic].”
The FEC, the NRO report notes, is not exempted under Rule 6103, which prohibits the IRS from sharing sensitive taxpayer data. Nevertheless, it appears Lerner and an FEC attorney were trading confidential taxpayer information.
From the attorney: “When we spoke last July, you had told us that the American Future Fund had not received an exemption letter from the IRS.”
That sentence alone should raise some concerns.
The attorney also inquired about status of another conservative group, the American Issues Project.
“I was also wondering if you could tell me whether the IRS had issued an exemption letter to a group called the American Issues Project? The group also appears to be the successor of two other organizations, Citizens for the Republic and Avenger, Inc.,” the attorney wrote.
The attorney asked whether there was “any information and documents that would be publicly available in relation to the American Issues Project, Citizens for the Republic, or Avenger, Inc.”
But let’s go back to the situation involving the American Future Fund. Johnson provided some background and context on the issue:
The timing of the correspondence between Lerner and the FEC suggests the FEC attorney sought information from the IRS in order to influence an upcoming vote by the six FEC commissioners. The FEC received a complaint in March 2008 from the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party alleging that the American Future Fund had violated campaign-finance law by engaging in political advocacy without registering as a political-action committee.
The American Future Fund responded to that complaint in June 2008, telling the commission that it had applied for tax exemption in March of that year and was a “501(c)(4) social-welfare organization that was organized to provide Americans with a conservative and free-market viewpoint and mechanism to communicate and advocate on the issues that most interest and concern them.” According to the e-mail correspondence, a month after receiving the American Future Fund’s response, the FEC general counsel’s office — which is prohibited under law from conducting an investigation into an organization before the FEC’s six commissioners have voted to do so — contacted Lerner to investigate the agency’s tax-exempt status.
The FEC general counsel’s office apparently failed to inform agency commissioners of how it obtained its knowledge of the group’s tax-exempt status. The office recommended commissioners prosecute the conservative group, writing: “According to its response, AFF submitted an application for tax-exempt status to the Internal Revenue Service . . . on March 18, 2008.”
But despite the urgings of the FEC general counsel’s office, the agency’s commissioners voted 6-0 to close the case against American Future Fund.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and oversight subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-La.) have called on the IRS to provide the committee with all communications between itself and the FEC between 2008 and 2012
Click here to read the full NRO report.
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Featured image Associated Press.