The Information-Revealing Service
Were a pro-marriage group and its donors targeted by IRS employees?

John Eastman on Capitol Hill, June 4, 2013.


Ian Tuttle

You do not have to believe in the Templar treasure, chemtrails, or a second shooter on the grassy knoll to believe that what John Eastman is describing is rife with the ingredients of a government intrigue.

Eastman is Henry Salvatori Professor of Law and Community Service at Chapman University, in Orange, Calif. Since September 2011 he has also been chairman of the board of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that advocates for traditional marriage. Testifying on Tuesday, June 4, before the House Ways and Means Committee about NOM’s mistreatment at the hands of the IRS, Eastman laid out a scheme to rival any Dan Brown novel.

On March 30, 2012, the Human Rights Campaign — NOM’s chief political opponent — published on its website, under the headline “One of NOM’s Top Secret Donors Revealed: Mitt Romney,” NOM’s 2008 Form 990 Schedule B, which contained the names and addresses of the organization’s major donors. HRC shared the document with the Huffington Post, which published it that same day. The document — which HRC said it had received from “a whistleblower” — would subsequently appear on a number of sites, among them New York magazine, Mother Jones, and the Daily Beast.

What makes NOM’s case unusual is this: The National Organization for Marriage has been operating as a nonprofit since 2008, so, as Eastman points out, it is not like the dozens or hundreds of conservative groups whose applications for tax-exempt status after Obama became president have led to invasive questioning, home visits, and audits. Rather, when it comes to IRS abuse, NOM is in a league of its own: As-yet-unknown IRS personnel may have dug into the records of NOM specifically and leaked confidential tax documents to its principal political opponent.

Scrolling through the document that appeared at the Huffington Post, NOM employees noticed that at the center of the page, a number flickered on the screen before disappearing behind a white box. Travis Phillips, information-technology guru for ActRight Legal Foundation, NOM’s legal counsel, discovered that the posted document was composed of several invisible “layers” — “like transparencies on a projector,” he explains. Phillips was able to isolate the layers and expose beneath the white box a hidden document identification number, 100560209.

While working with the document, Phillips also noticed that the “canvas” — the background on which the image is set and which acts like a frame, determining how much of the image is visible and invisible — had been shrunk, effectively cropping the document. But rather than cutting off the margins, shrinking the canvas had merely hidden them. Expanding the canvas, Phillips discovered at the top of each page the words “THIS IS A COPY OF A LIVE RETURN FROM SMIP. OFFICIAL USE ONLY.” According to the Internal Revenue Manual, Section (January 1, 2012), that phrase is a header that the IRS’s Central Information System stamps on e-filed documents.