Face it, nobody likes the Tax Man, so it’s easy to lambast the Internal Revenue Service, which is just about as popular (but just as necessary) as a regular colonoscopy.
Lately, the IRS has taken a hit for targeting “Tea Party” organizations with heightened scrutiny when those groups applied for tax-exempt status. The head of the IRS resigned, the President apologized profusely and Congress is holding hearings to investigate how such an outrage could occur.
But what’s the problem? There’s a well-established rule that only non-partisan groups are eligible for tax exemption. As a clergyman, I know this rule well. It means no endorsing candidates from the pulpit. No telling my parishioners how to vote. No fund raising for Democrats, Republicans, or others seeking electoral office. As a minister, I’m advised, I’d better not even wear a campaign button for Markey or Gomez (the current senatorial candidates in Massachusetts, the state where I'm currently living). To do so might mean jeopardizing the tax-exempt status of my church, which would then be crossing the line between a religious, charitable organization and a political action caucus.
So if I were an IRS bureaucrat faced with thousands of applications from outfits seeking tax exemption, I might very well use a computerized key word search to sort through the pile. Anything group with “party” in its name (“Tea Party,” “Patriot Party,” “Citizens’ Party”) would probably get flagged for special attention. Parties, by definition, are partisan. That’s the definition of a party, and it describes many groups—perhaps most—under the Tea Party umbrella
An internet search, for instance, shows at least 69 societies in Massachusetts calling themselves “Tea Party” affiliates. Here in Worcester, there is the “Seven Hills Tea Party” which seeks to “encourage involvement in campaigns for like minded candidates (local, state and federal).” The Berkshire Tea Party describes itself as working “in cooperation with the GOP.” Several others in the Massachusetts Tea Party network declare their heartfelt intention to rid the country of President Obama. You may agree or disagree with their agendas. But do these parties sound non-partisan to you?
Such groups have every right to organize, of course, and to take a role in civic life. But should they be tax exempt? Not under current law.
So the IRS doesn’t need to apologize. The ones apologizing should be the media and our current leaders—Republicans and Democrats--who are trying to raise their own poll numbers by attacking the one person everyone loves to hate …
The Tax Man: a real pain in the patootey.