The Internal Revenue Service has dramatically increased its audits of religious broadcasters, according to a survey by a former executive of the National Religious Broadcasters.
While the IRS contends the chances of an individual being audited are one out of 146, the study by Bruce Bates, former director of publications for the NRB, found that religious broadcasters face audits at the rate of one in 20.
Furthermore, the study released today charges that more than half of the audits of religious broadcasters in the last five years were conducted in 1997 alone, indicating a huge upsurge at the very time the IRS has been under congressional scrutiny for conducting politically motivated audits.
"The findings add further credibility to recent evidence that the executive branch of the government has been using the IRS to go after their political adversaries, particularly religious organizations and their leadership, for the past several decades," says Bates, who now heads a communications and marketing firm in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Documents recently obtained from the IRS under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that President John. F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy created a program called the "Ideological Organizations Audit Program" that used the agency to "contain" conservative Christian organizations "from further expansion."
Newly released transcripts of White House tapes reveal that President Richard M. Nixon ordered members of his administration to use the IRS to "go after" several of his political adversaries, including those he specifically identified as "Jewish" contributors to the Democratic Party.
The new statistics on religious broadcasters, who tend to be more critical of administration policies, add to the growing evidence that the Clinton administration is using the IRS as a weapon to target political enemies.
In January, Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation is expected to continue an investigation of the alleged political audits -- a probe launched early last year in response to an expose by the Western Journalism Center, the parent company of WorldNetDaily.
An exclusive WorldNetDaily survey in July named some 20 non-profit organizations and think-tanks "unfriendly" to the Clinton administration that have faced IRS audits since 1993. These include the National Rifle Association, the National Center for Public Policy, Citizens Against Government Waste, the National Review, American Spectator magazine and the Western Journalism Center.
The latter was specifically targeted for "action" in a December 1994 memorandum prepared in the White House counsel's office and later released to congressional investigators. Later, its 1994 and 1995 tax returns were audited in what field agent Thomas Cederquist, who threatened the group's tax-exempt status, described as a "political case." Though the case is now closed and the center's tax-exempt status
secure, the IRS refuses to release to the group its own case file. The center is considering legal action.
There have been no reports of groups sympathetic to Clinton's policies, such as Planned Parenthood or the Brookings Institute, being chosen for audit or threatened with revocation of their 501(c)3 status. In fact, a survey by the Washington Times late last year could not identify a single liberal public policy organization that had been audited during the entire Clinton administration.
In addition, a number of individuals are speaking out about audits they believe are politically motivated. Last August, Californian Margie Gray sent an e-mail to President
Clinton chastising him for "immoral, unethical and dishonest" behavior. Less than a month later, Mrs. Gray received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service claiming she owed $3,500 in interest since 1991 due to a "mistake" she had made on her personal income tax return for that year. There was just one problem -- the Grays do not file separate returns.
Other victims include grass-roots Clinton administration critics, an author, a film
editor, former White House personnel, board members of groups targeted, Paula Corbin Jones, even a well-known talk show host.
One of the most unusual cases -- one that some regard as a "smoking gun" proving the Clinton administration is conducting politically motivated audits -- is that of Travelgate figure Billy Dale.
According to documents discovered by congressional investigators, in May 1993, White House Counsel William Kennedy told the FBI that if it didn't start a criminal probe of the travel office headed by Dale that he "might have to seek guidance from another agency, such as the IRS." Eight days later, the IRS launched separate audits of UltrAir, the travel office agency, and Dale, the director. Other notes turned up by congressional investigators reveal that another member of the White House counsel staff wrote about the Dale case that then-IRS Commissioner Margaret Milner Richardson was "on top of it."
As for the religious broadcasters, President Clinton has been very critical of their involvement in political issues. In June 1994, the president bitterly assailed them as a group and singled out Rev. Jerry Falwell by name, for "personal, demeaning attacks" on his ethics.
In addition, Bates' survey, based on 573 randomly selected religious broadcasters representing more than 10 percent of the total universe, found the following:
- one in 11 organizations are currently being audited or have been within the past five years;
- one in 20 religious broadcasters were audited by the IRS in 1997;
- 57 percent of audited organizations have fewer than 10 employees;
- 71 percent of the audited organizations had revenues less than $500,000 in 1996;
- 14 percent of the organizations have had liens levied against their assets by the IRS;
- 29 percent of the organizations were required to submit to a field investigation;
- 43 percent of the organizations targeted are not tax-exempt;