Months after the inspector general’s report in May that revealed the IRS had specifically targeted tea-party groups applying for tax-exempt status as charitable organizations, the IRS continued to stall pro-life groups’ applications for tax-exempt status, according to the Thomas More Society (TMS). What President Obama condemned as one of various “phony scandals” isn’t nearly over yet.
“Even though the inspector general’s report claimed that the harassment of tea-party groups ended in 2012, the harassment of pro-life groups continues unabated,” says Peter Breen, Thomas More’s vice president and senior counsel.
In a memo released yesterday, TMS, a nonprofit law firm focused on pro-life and religious-liberty causes, detailed the obstacles that three different pro-life groups faced in their attempts to be recognized as charitable institutions. Two of the organizations, Cherish Life Ministries and LIFE Runners, have finally been granted tax-exempt status (although it took until late July for the latter to receive it), while a third, Emerald Coast Coalition for Life, is still waiting.
Both Cherish Life and LIFE endured an unusually lengthy application process: It took them 16 and 14 months respectively to receive 501(c)(3) status (which is for tax-exempt charities). According to TMS, the IRS approves most groups within nine months.
But there are troubling signs that the delays were motivated by disapproval of the groups’ pro-life work. The IRS asked LIFE, “Does your organization provide information regarding other alternatives to ‘pro life’?” To put that question into context, recall that Planned Parenthood has 501(c)(3) status. LIFE co-founder and president Pat Castle says he found the question “shocking.”
The pro-life groups also observed other red flags. Both LIFE and Emerald Coast were deemed to need an “Exempt Organization specialist” to review their application, an extra hurdle in the process that most groups don’t face. The IRS letter to Emerald Coast stating that the organization would need such a specialist was signed by none other than Lois Lerner. The letter, which Emerald Coast received September 7, 2012, informed the group that the IRS would be in touch in approximately 90 days. The IRS didn’t contact Emerald Coast, however, until June 19, 2013 — 285 days later.
Furthermore, both LIFE and Cherish Life initially received letters from the IRS stating that they were not eligible for 501(c)(3) status. If the groups had not persisted and appealed, they would not have received tax-exempt status.
According to LIFE’s Castle, who is also an Air Force commander, the long delay hurt the group financially. LIFE had initially applied for the tax-exempt status in March 2012. Having heard that many groups received such status six to eight months after the IRS received their application, LIFE anticipated winning approval by October 2012, when the group held one of its biggest events. But they had not received any answer from the IRS by then. Nor had the group yet received tax-exempt status when it held other large events in January, March, and April 2013.
“It hurt us,” Castle says bluntly, noting that the October 2012 marathon event (runners across the country participate in Marathons to benefit LIFE Runners) was particularly crucial. “We would have been able to say, ‘Hey, sponsors, contributors, we’re tax-exempt.’ We weren’t able to do that.”
“If the process went as it should have gone, we would have been able to motivate a whole lot more giving,” Castle says. “Of course it affects contributions.”
TMS’s Breen underscores that we should see these pro-life groups as part of a “pattern of harassment from the IRS starting in 2009” and continuing to this day.
“The only conclusion we can draw,” Breen says, “is that it was the Obama administration that changed a policy, whether informally or formally, which resulted in numerous organizations being targeted.”
And it’s giving left-wing organizations an unfair advantage.
“Left-wing groups don’t have to go and get lawyers and make constitutional arguments to justify their existence as public charities,” Breen points out. At least for now, some pro-life groups are still facing partisan hurdles from the IRS when it comes to obtaining tax-exempt status.
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.