In response to the growing scandal around the IRS controversy of targeting of tax exempt status of conservative non-profit groups for extensive scrutiny, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) released a statement on May 15. While Merkley’s statement denounced the actions, he left more questions than answers regarding a 2012 letter he cosigned that demanded action by the IRS to create more disclosures by tax-exempt groups. These disclosures demanded by Merkley and several other Senators align with the actions by the IRS against conservative groups.
The statement released on May 15 says,
Merkley Statement on Inspector General IRS Report
Washington – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley issued the following statement after the release of an Inspector General report that the IRS was inappropriately targeting conservative groups for reviews of their tax-exempt status.
“What the IRS did was wrong. Targeting groups by their name or their ideology is absolutely unacceptable. The IRS has a lot of power and it is imperative that it be used evenhandedly. A full investigation should be conducted, responsible people should be punished, and action should be taken so that this inappropriate targeting doesn’t happen again.
“The IRS dropped the ball when it failed to create clear standards for the kinds of election activities tax-exempt groups can participate in. The IRS should have written clear rules and requirements for 501(c)(4)s years ago. There is no doubt we have political groups that are inappropriately masquerading as ‘social welfare organizations’ to claim tax-exempt status and keep their donors secret. We need criteria with clear bright lines laying out what groups with tax-exempt status are allowed to do and not do, regardless of the groups’ political views, so that decision isn’t left with IRS bureaucrats.”
While Senator Merkley states that the actions taken by the IRS were “absolutely unacceptable”, he goes on to say that the IRS should determine “clear bright lines laying out what groups with tax-exempt status are allowed to do and not do”.
This is consistent with a letter he signed in May 2012, authored by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), that according to the Washington Post, demanded stricter IRS standards for tax-exempt groups. Indeed, the letter reads as a threat to create legislation if the demands of the senators were not met:
The lawmakers promised legislation if the IRS failed to address the issues with specific measures, namely clarifying how much political activity is acceptable for tax-exempt groups, requiring the organizations to document how much of their work is dedicated to non-political purposes and demanding that they tell donors what percentage of their contributions can be claimed as deductions.
“We urge the IRS to take these steps immediately to prevent abuse of the tax code by political groups focused on federal election activities,” the senators said.
When reached for comment on the morning of May 15, Senator Merkley’s office was quick to provide the original statement. However, as of this writing, repeated followup requests for comment on the 2012 letter have gone unanswered.