During the 2012 election year, the Internal Revenue Service delayed the application of a conservative Christian group in Ohio that was seeking 501(c)3 tax-exempt status to register Christians to vote and to oppose the ACLU in court in First Amendment cases.
“We have suspicion that the IRS delayed our application for nearly 13 months due to the selective targeting of Ohio conservative groups that Congress is now investigating in both the House and Senate,” stated Chris Long, president of the Ohio Christian Alliance, told WND.
Long said his group’s original application made it clear that the new organization would go into Christian congregations with a non-partisan effort to register voters in the battleground state of Ohio during the 2012 presidential election.
“The IRS knew we would be registering conservative church-goers and weighing in on the 2012 presidential election,” he said.
Long pointed out that the non-partisan Ohio Christian Alliance Educational Fund, operating as a 501(c)3 organization, would have registered both Democrats and Republicans.
The group has operated as a 501(c)4 since 2004, but only 501(c)3 groups can accept tax-deductable contributions.
The ACLU has both a 501(c)3 and a 501(c)4 organization. The 501(c)3 group pursues legal cases, and the 501(c)4 advocacy group engages in legislative efforts.
Long suspects the IRS was attempting to block the Ohio Christian Alliance, or OCA, from forming a 501(c)3 organization because it didn’t want the organization to counter the ACLU in court.
He noted that at the time of OCA’s application, the Obama administration was pushing forward the Obamacare mandate that would require even Christian organizations to pay for abortion and contraceptive services in employee health care plans.
“My suspicion is the IRS knew the Ohio Christian Alliance would appear in court to oppose the ACLU and the HHS mandate,” he said.
“It did cause us to wonder after these reports surfaced if there may have been some motive behind the additional questions to our application and the delay in its processing.”
Long said it’s now up to Congress to further investigate what the motives of the IRS officials might have been.
In a formal letter, Long and OCA have asked the House Ways and Means Committee to investigate how the IRS handled their request to form the Education Fund as a 501(c)3 organization.
The group wants the House panel to find out how the applications of other organizations with missions similar to the Education Fund were processed last year.
Sarah Swinehart, a House Ways and Means Committee staff member, was shown a copy of OCA’s letter to the committee and said she had not seen it. She promised to pass it on to appropriate staff.
The committee has established a page on its website titled “The IRS Political Discrimination Investigation: Share Your Story,” inviting organizations that alleged discrimination by the IRS for political reasons to tell their story and file a complaint with the committee.
The Ohio Christian Alliance provided WND with documentation, including copies of IRS correspondence, that establishes the following timetable:
- OCA filed a Form 1023 application with the IRS on Feb. 8, 2011, to create the Ohio Christian Alliance Education Fund as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt group in which contributions would be tax-deductible;
- On March 17, 2011, the IRS responded to OCA, saying within 90-days it should receive a response from the IRS;
- Months went by with OCA receiving no response from the IRS, despite repeated efforts by the group’s lawyers to determine the status of the application;
- Then, on Dec. 12, 2011, OCA received what amounted to a two-page demand letter from the IRS, dated Dec. 8, 2011;
- The IRS demand letter required OCA to file “additional information” to a detailed series of questions by no later than Dec. 30, 2011, 18 days after the receipt of the IRS demand letter, or the IRS would conclude OCA no longer wanted to pursue the application;
- The IRS informed OCA that if it did not respond by the deadline, the IRS planned to treat the Ohio Christian Education Fund as a taxable entity.
“The IRS gave us only 18 days during the holiday season in December to respond to a long list of intrusive questions when the it knew it would be difficult for us to get the time required from our lawyers,” Long said.
He believes the IRS’s motivation was political.
“I believe the IRS wanted to block the Ohio Christian Alliance from being effective registering Christians to vote in the 2012 election, especially because Ohio was considered such an important battleground state,” he said.
Long’s lawyers were available in mid-December 2011, and OCA was able to expeditiously answer the IRS.
Finally, on Feb. 21, 2012, OCA received a determination letter approving 501(c)3 status for the Ohio Christian Alliance Education Fund, nearly 13 months after the original filing.
Long explained to WND that OCA lost several substantial donations from contributors who wanted to make tax-deductible contributions.
“Each month the application was delayed put the Ohio Christian Alliance Education Fund at a distinct disadvantage in fundraising capability,” he noted. “Most grant dispersements to organizations with missions similar to that of the OCA Ed Fund were distributed in November and December 2011 and January 2012. By the time we got our determination letter, that money from the large contributors had already left the barn.”
IRS questions ‘opposing anti-Christian bigotry’
The questions submitted in the IRS demand letter of Dec. 8, 2011, caused OCA to wonder about the IRS’s motivation, Long said.
“The IRS narrative suggested that somehow it was objectionable to oppose anti-Christian bigotry and defend the rights of Christians.”
The IRS letter read:
“The narrative [of the Ohio Christian Educational Fund] indicates the organization ‘ … opposes anti-Christian bigotry and defends the rights of Christians.” Please describe how the organization achieves this purpose. For example, will the organization engage in legal action against activity the organization interprets as Christian bigotry, or are the actions of the anti-Christian organization against anti-Christian bigotry more accurately classified as educational in nature.”
Long instructed his attorneys to inform the IRS that the Ohio Christian Educational Fund did intend to file legal actions in court.
“The ACLU is a 501(c)3 organization and they file legal suits in court all the live-long day,” Long countered. “We are opposed to the positions the ACLU holds, we are at the opposite end of the spectrum. But why would we not have access to the courts to defend the First Amendment rights of churches, Christians, and institutions that hold with religious beliefs?”
The IRS also asked OCA to supply a complete description of all activities planned for the Ohio Christian Alliance Education Fund for the next 12 months.
“Remember, we had already filed with the IRS a detailed and comprehensive application in which we went through the entire narrative of what the Education Fund would be about, as well as the details of how it would be organized, how it would be structured and what activities the 501(c)3 would be conducting,” he said.
Long said his organization’s lawyers found the IRS’s handling of the application very unusual, expecting the application to be accepted in five or six months, at the most.
“We had already answered all those questions in the original application,” he said. “Our lawyers have had some three decades of experience filing tax-exempt applications with the IRS, and they were surprised.”