Thursday, May 16, 2013
How The IRS Targeted Catholic Education Effort
Here is a special message from Brian Burch, Director of the CatholicVote.org Education Fund:
The recent revelations concerning the illegal actions by the IRS targeting conservative groups compel me to speak out.
In July 2009, the Chicago IRS office threatened theCatholicVote.org Education Fund.
The CV Education Fund is our 501(c)3 tax-exempt entity, created to educate, inspire and mobilize Catholic voters. As you may know, 501(c)3 charities, unlike our sister org (CatholicVote.org, a 501c4 organization) are not permitted to intervene in any political campaign or to oppose or support any political candidate.
We never did.
But according to the IRS, an unnamed source provided them information, including an email that we distributed prior to the 2008 election, which prompted their ‘examination.’
The email in question was titled “Barack Obama on the Issues of Importance to Catholics” and it specifically disclaimed any endorsement or approval of any political candidate.
In fact, our email did not even offer our position! Instead, we used actual Obama press releases and news stories to provide voters information on his positions on the issues of “abortion, stem cell research, contraceptives, and gay marriage.”
We urged voters to gather the facts, and ended our email with this line: “Let’s have an informed electorate on Tuesday.”
For this, we received a lengthy letter with over 50 questions asking for everything from how many people are on our email list, bank account names, and our checking account numbers.
Yes, even our checking account numbers!
To properly respond to the IRS, we were forced to divert staff time and precious resources to pay for legal counsel. Over a period of weeks, we provided the IRS everything they asked for.
But we didn’t stop there.
As a part of our response, we cited the IRS code, which explicitly states that charities like ours are permitted to reach the public with a ‘pure issue message.’ Nothing in the law prohibits organizations like ours from informing voters about the positions taken by candidates for public office. Our 501(c)3 entity has never endorsed, supported or expressly advocated the election or defeat of ANY political candidate.
We argued that the IRS code is vague and standardless, and that no objective standard exists to regulate what might or might not constitute political intervention – thus opening the door to abuse. We told the IRS that groups like ours should not be subjected to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.
If they chose to fine us, we were prepared to sue.
The IRS ultimately chose to do nothing – they backed down.
Why is this important? Because the IRS scandal brewing in Washington D.C. suggests that their examination of theCatholicVote.org Education Fund could have been politically motivated.
Were we targeted for our political views? Who and what prompted the IRS to investigate us?
Did their investigation have anything to do with our “Imagine the Potential” viral video celebrating the gift of life, including the choice for life made by Barack Obama’s mother that was watched by millions of people? This video was released 5 months before we were investigated and received national attention including coverage on the front page of the Washington Post website.
Was the IRS investigation intended to intimidate us, or have a chilling effect on our future plans?
We may never know. But we are going to do our best to find out. Reluctantly, we have decided to retain counsel to evaluate the IRS’ conduct and determine whether we can take action to fight back against this abuse of power. We want to know who induced the IRS to come after us, or whether that was a pretext, and whether the IRS or any government agency was attempting to thwart our lawful issue advocacy.
This is America. Something must be done to fight back. What we are witnessing in Washington is disgusting and shameful. We are better than this. Those responsible should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Thankfully we have thick skin, and some top-notch attorneys.
You can chip in to support our effort here.
But at least now you know.
And you deserve to know that we will always defend our right to speak the truth, and to provide you and every Catholic in America the resources they need to vote with an informed conscience.
Thank you, as always, for your ongoing support and prayers.
Brian Burch, Director
CatholicVote.org Education Fund