NAACP Tax Status Under Review
After National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Chairman made comments about the tactics of the Bush administration, the IRS announced that they were reviewing the association’s tax-exempt status, causing a stir in the Black community and among non-partisan organizations.
The IRS in a letter to the NAACP dated October 8, has announced that the 501(c) (3) organization’s tax-exempt status is under review because of politically charged statements Chairman Julian Bond made in July at the organization’s annual conference in Philadelphia criticizing the current state of U.S. domestic and foreign affairs. If the association is found to be in violation of the rules, their tax-exempt status could be taken away.
An information document request was sent along with their letter. According to an article in The Cincinnati Post, the request specifically asks for a detailed list of all expenses for the July convention as well as the names and addresses of each member of all NAACP board members, as well as how they voted.
According to a June 2004 letter issued on tax-exempt organizations, under IRS guidelines, while “prohibited political campaign activity depends upon all the facts and circumstances in each case,” charities and other organizations with tax-exempt status are generally prohibited from “directly or indirectly participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”
While the guidelines do not prohibit organizations’ leaders from making comments in a private capacity, “leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official organization functions, including official church publications and functions.”
In his speech, Bond offered thoughts on the war in Iraq, and different treatment regardless of similar behavior for Democrats and Republicans, as well as commentary on other issues. Specific references were made to former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s past “lambasting” of efforts to desegregate St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri schools and new educational disparities “imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act” in which schools with “low-income minorities…have become conveyor belts to prison.”
In his speech, he said, “the NAACP has always been non-partisan, but that doesn’t mean that we’re non-critical. For as long as we’ve existed, whether Democrats or Republicans have occupied the White House, we’ve spoken truth to power…When any political party places politics over principle, we give them non-partisan hell!”
Moreover, Bond went on to say that the candidates represent “two widely
disparate views of who we are and what we believe.” One candidate, then incumbent President Bush, being representative of moving “backward through history- surrendering control of government to special interests, weakening democracy, giving religion veto power over science, curtailing civil liberties, despoiling the environment,” with the other, Sen. John Kerry, promising “expanded democracy and giving the people, not plutocrats, control over their government”
Bond, in response to the IRS’s audit, said, “I am shocked at this effort to silence our group just before the election.”
According to a Knight Ridder article, Bond said that while his speech was critical of Bush, it was not in support of Kerry.
“It is Orwellian to believe that criticism and partisanship are the same thing…It‘s just unbelievable that the critiquing the president would bring the weight of the IRS down on you…We think every American, no matter what political party they belong to, should be outraged by this.”
IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson, in an IRS memo stated that the IRS “follows strict procedures involving the selection of tax-exempt organizations for audit and resolution of any complaints about such groups. Career civil servants, not political appointees, make these decisions in a fair impartial manner.”
In addition, Everson said, “Any suggestion that the IRS has titled its audit for political purposes is repugnant and groundless.”
Many question the enforcement of these non-partisan rules and their timing, but this is not the first time that the IRS has taken action against a 501(c) (3) organization.
Takisha Folade, a junior communications and media studies major at Fordham University, is one such individual.
“In my opinion, this all stems from the negative press that Bush received after he decided not to speak at the NAACP Convention this year, which was a slap in the face to black voters," said Folade.
"Although the law is clearly stated, the impact of this would mean that private organizations could be open to invasive and expensive federal scrutiny. I also feel that such probes would be done on a disproportionate scale with minority groups bearing the brunt of them.”
Howard University Senior electrical engineering major, Robert Rountree said, “If Bond knew the consequences of his actions before he said what he said, he should not have even commented on it. But then again, he has done it before so why did they wait until now to take action against the NAACP? I think they waited until now to make an example of the NAACP because it was so close to election time.”
Michael Forde, a Georgia Institute of Technology sophomore aerospace engineering major slightly disagrees with Rountree.
Forde said, “It’s not a black-white thing, which unfortunately, is what the whole world is going to make it look like. It’s really just a pure bias of anything against the Bush administration. It’s just the Bush administration trying to unify the opinion of the nation, even if that is wrong.”
Vinesh Ramhit, a senior economics major at City University of New York,
Hunter College, said that the situation is, for lack of a better expression, cut and dry.
In his address Bond said, “They operate a perpetual motion attack and squeal like stuck pigs if you answer back,” in reference to the administration and some of their tactics.
It is apparent to Ramhit that the “motion” is still “perpetual.”
“It is clear as day that the elite white class are elbowing everyone else so that they have total control over everyone and their speech and if anyone disagrees they should be punished. It just goes to show that whoever disagreed with the president over the last four years will be paying for it over the next four years.”
While many have thoughts of the NAACP setting a precedent for organizations actually being investigated due to claims of partisan behavior, it does not. Although by law the IRS cannot make comments on specific audits, warning letters have been sent to other organizations with tax-exempt status.
In 2000, the Binghamton, NY based Branch Ministries lost their tax-exempt status eight years after making comments criticizing Bill Clinton during his 1992 election.
In 1990, another un-named religious organization (because of strict IRS non-disclosure guidelines) was stripped of its tax-exempt status after distributing materials to help elect conservatives to national office.
In addition to this, according to a technical advice memorandum prepared by the IRS from September 1990, even though they did not mention a specific candidates’ name, the organization, sought to “make sure all unregistered voters who agree with conservative values are registered.”