Area conservative group caught in IRS dragnet, member says
The Western Slope Conservative Alliance is among as many as 5,000 organizations across the nation whose applications for nonprofit status were stymied by the Internal Revenue Service, a Grand Junction man said.
After officials with the organization filed their first requests for nonprofit status in 2010, they received information back in 2012.
“They sat on it for that long,” Kevin McCarney of the alliance said. The organization has since changed its name in part because of the difficulties it had with the IRS.
An IRS official has said the agency singled out applicants for nonprofit status that included words such as “tea party” and “conservative” in their names.
The IRS has said 300 organizations were affected. Congressional investigators said the number was approaching 500.
That practice runs counter to what should happen with organizations and individuals wishing to participate in the political process, McCarney said.
“Political speech should be protected to the hilt in this country,” he said.
The IRS response to the alliance application came in the form of a four-page questionnaire containing 12 questions, each with several subparts. A copy of the questionnaire is available on GJSentinel.com.
The IRS demanded that McCarney provide detailed responses, such as copies of the materials handed out at public events and the amount of time “in relation to 100 percent of all of your activities” spent in organizing events.
Other areas of inquiry included “copies of your website that your members can only access” and “copies of all the publications and/or advertising materials that you have distributed or will distribute.”
The IRS also sought resumes of the board members of each agency.
That question, McCarney said, would have given the IRS information it could use to investigate individuals.
At one point, he said, the IRS demanded information about the alliance’s relationship with Scott Tipton and Ken Buck.
The alliance had hosted “meet-and-greets” for Buck, a Republican who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in 2010 and Tipton, the Republican who was elected to represent the 3rd Congressional District that year.
The alliance, McCarney said, was a conservative but nonpartisan organization that hosted meetings that were open to the public, but which made no endorsements that year and took no positions.
It cost the alliance $400 to begin the process of becoming a 401(c)(4) organization, a cost the alliance had to eat, McCarney said.
The successor group, Freedom!Colorado, has paid $400 to restart the process and McCarney said he’s waiting for a response to the new application.
Bennet wrote the IRS in 2012, two years after the program targeting conservative organizations began, and called on the agency to beware of political organizations taking liberties with the tax code.
Bennet spokesman Adam Bozzi said Bennet believes targeting people or organizations based on political ideology is wrong and was pleased that the Senate Finance Committee will investigate.
“It is also important that we don’t lose sight of the underlying issue that political organizations do not masquerade as social welfare organizations and take advantage of the tax exempt status that comes with it,” Bozzi said. “The review of those organizations must be conducted without any bias or partisanship.”
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said he welcomed the IRS apology, “but that is not nearly enough.”
Udall also welcomed Finance Committee hearings “to ensure this type of government overreach never happens again.”
Tipton earlier this week condemned the IRS actions and noted that he and others began questioning the actions of the IRS in 2012.