A consumer group is urging the Internal Revenue Service to cancel the tax-exempt status of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, alleging the activist group has donated more than $150,000 to criminal activists.

The Center for Consumer Freedom charges that despite PETA’s “deceptively warm-and-fuzzy public image,” it has given money to groups whose members have been jailed for arson, burglary and attempted murder.

The center describes itself as a “nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies, and consumers working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.”

In 2001, the center said, PETA donated $1,500 to the North American Earth Liberation Front, an organization the FBI classifies as “domestic terrorists.”

Rank-and-file PETA activists have been arrested more than 80 times for breaking various laws during PETA protests, the center says. Charges included felony obstruction of government property, criminal mischief, assaulting a cabinet official, felony vandalism, performing obscene acts in public, destruction of federal property and burglary.

The center points out that as a nonprofit group – like universities, houses of worship and social service organizations – PETA pays no federal taxes on its income.

“But few of these other tax-exempt groups share PETA’s total disregard for the law,” the center says.

PETA’s 2002 receipts amounted to more than $17 million, meaning their tax break was about $3 million.

“Because this tax break amounts to a huge subsidy, every American taxpayer is footing the bill for PETA’s behavior,” the center charges.

“PETA’s tax-exempt status was granted by the U.S. government on the basis of the group’s willingness to conduct itself in a lawful fashion,” the center says. “We believe that PETA has failed to live up to its end of the bargain, and that the Internal Revenue Service should cancel PETA’s tax-exempt status.”

The center has set up a petition on its website.

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