GOP Senators Want IRS to Cite Legal Grounds for Demanding Donor Lists of Tea Party Groups

By Fred Lucas | June 18, 2012 | 4:19pm EDT

(AP Photo)

( – Senate Republicans want to know if the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has any legal standing to demand donor information from various Tea Party and conservative groups, which the IRS apparently is pursuing.

“We remain concerned that the IRS is requesting the names of donors and contributors to organizations that apply for tax-exempt status,” says the Senate letter sent to IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Schulman on Monday. “In doing so, the IRS appears to be circumventing the statutory privacy protections that Congress has long provided donors.”

The letter is signed by Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah; Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky; John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas; Jon Kyl of Arizona; Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee; Mike Enzi of Wyoming; John Thune of South Dakota and Pat Roberts of Kansas. McConnell is the Senate minority leader and Hatch is the ranking member of the Finance Committee with oversight responsibility of the IRS.

The New York Times first reported in March that the IRS sent dozens of questionnaires to Tea Party organizations demanding to know their political leanings, donors and activities. These same Republicans sent a similar letter that month, referring to the Ohio Liberty Council Corporation, the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Tea Party, the Waco (Texas) Tea Party, the Kentucky 9/12 Project and the Richmond (Ky.) Tea Party.

The Times reported that a total of 16 non-profit Tea Party organizations are claiming that the IRS is harassing them.

Under current law, non-profits are allowed to withhold the names of donors.

The 91st Congress denied the Treasury Department the authority to disclose the names and addresses of financial contributors. The 100th Congress passed an exemption from disclosure of names and addresses of financial contributors by expanding public inspection of certain annual returns, reports, and applications for exemption of tax-exempt organizations.

Tea Party demonstration in Illinois. (AP Photo)

“The [Internal Revenue] Code specifically states that the names and addresses of donors are not required to be available for public inspection when viewed at this physical location,” the latest letter reads.

The letter explained, “Unfortunately, the public release of private donor information exposes citizens to possible harassment and intimidation by those who oppose the goals of the charitable organization.”

In March, seven Senate Democrats called upon the IRS to crack down on non-profits engaged in political activity. Specifically, the Democrats called for the IRS to impose regulations by capping the amount these non-profits can spend on political campaigns and requiring the organizations to disclose on all written and online solicitations how much of their funding is used for political campaigns.

“In recent years, this daylight between the law and the IRS regulations has been exploited by groups devoted chiefly to political election activities who operate behind a façade of charity work,” said the March 12 letter signed by Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York; Michael Bennett of Colorado; Sheldon White House of Rhode Island; Jeff Merkley of Oregon; Tom Udall of New Mexico; Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Al Franken of Minnesota.

Democrats and liberal groups have been highly critical of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court that lifted restraints on political speech. One liberal group, Americans United for Change, even announced a $25,000 reward for any employee who would tell the organization if their employer donated money to a super PAC.

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