Give non-profits relief from IRS delays
Friday, August 08, 2014 10:00 PM
A flurry of scandal has recently surrounded the Internal Revenue Service.
Over the past few months, we have learned about missing emails from IRS employees and revelations of clear bias and hostility by a top IRS official towards organizations with certain political beliefs.
This all comes on the heels of the IRS targeting conservative groups - including at least one in Indiana - for extra scrutiny based on their political leanings when the groups applied for status as 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations.
Given the power this agency possesses over the lives of American citizens, it is imperative that the IRS be apolitical, above partisanship and completely compliant with the law.
I have called for a special prosecutor with subpoena power to investigate the IRS, as well as criminal penalties for IRS employees who violate the constitutional free speech rights of Americans. As congressional investigations continue into recent IRS actions, Congress needs to take additional steps to restore the trust of the American people in their government and provide a check on this powerful agency.
As one important step, I recently introduced legislation that would provide a much-needed avenue of relief for groups whose applications for tax-exempt status are languishing at the IRS.
Last year, a scathing Inspector General report revealed that many groups seeking 501(c)(4) status had waited three years or more for a decision from the IRS, while being subjected to intrusive interrogation about donors, political beliefs and positions on policy issues.
Currently, groups seeking 501(c)(3) status as a charity or foundation can ask the Tax Court for tax-exempt status through a declaratory judgment if the IRS delays acting on their applications for nine months or more. However, this right is not extended to other groups like those seeking status as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) social welfare organization.
Under current law, 501(c)(4) groups must wait until the IRS makes an adverse decision, and then the group must start paying taxes as a for-profit corporation before it can take the IRS to court. There is no recourse at all if the IRS simply refuses to act on their application, as it did during the recent targeting scandal.
Supported by Americans for Tax Reform and the Cost of Government Center, my proposal - called the ACCESS Act - would extend the Tax Court relief currently available in the 501(c)(3) context to groups seeking 501(c)(4) status or other tax-exempt status.
This commonsense reform, based on a recommendation from the nonpartisan National Taxpayer Advocate, would give all groups asking for exempt status equal access to a neutral referee when they face unconscionable delays from the IRS.
If there is one government agency that must avoid engaging in anything that can even remotely be deemed political, it is the IRS. This agency has the power to destroy your reputation, your finances and your business.
American taxpayers deserve the full truth of what happened at the IRS, as well as the assurance that these abuses will never happen again. My proposal will provide a meaningful check on the IRS and allow groups to bypass IRS intransigence. Congress can and should take this important step towards reforming the IRS.
Dan Coats is a U.S. senator from Indiana.