The recent media dust up about the Internal Revenue Service doing their job when considering group tax exemptions under the 501(c)4 rules focused on conservative groups being ‘targeted’ for political reasons. What hasn’t been reported as much is that non-conservative groups, including Camp Quest, were also targeted for extra scrutiny. This just shows that the conservative group’s claim of victimhood is more hysterical than the facts support.
While conservative groups are currently grabbing headlines, a range of charitable non-profits say they too were unfairly targeted.
When considering tax-exempt applications, IRS workers are confronted with having to make political or social judgments to decide whether non-profits’ activity disqualifies them.
Tax-exempt 501(c)3 charities cannot engage in any political activity. Applicants for 501(c)4 status must show they are “primarily” engaged in promoting social welfare, and not politics.
In October 2011, Camp Quest Inc, an Ohio-based Atheist group that organizes one-week adventure getaways for 8- to 17-year-olds, had its charitable, 501(c)3 tax-exempt application subjected to an IRS questionnaire, former IRS official Friedlander said. The organization describes itself as a place for free thought and a “summer camp beyond belief.”
Amanda Metskas, the group’s executive director, was confronted with a list of 20 time-consuming questions, including requests about education, activities and all curriculum materials, she said.
“I would have given up,” without legal help, she said. Camp Quest’s application was approved in January 2012.
Insight: IRS has long history of burying non-profits in paperwork
The IRS should question groups that apply for tax exemption to make sure they conform to the rules. As it appears they were looking at most of the groups that applied and only one group was denied the exemption (which was a democratic group), the claim that conservative groups were specifically targeted for political reasons doesn’t hold water.