No. of Recommendations: 4
The explicit purpose of the Tea Party is to directly participate in political campaigns and to oppose certain candidates, both Democrats and certain Republicans. The tea party is not organized exclusively to promote social welfare. It is organized primarily to organize for and against political candidates. The top story on its website today is headlined "Impeach Obama." If that's not political, nothing is.

The "Tea Party" is not a single organization - remember, we're talking literally scores of different groups that filed. The fact that another organization with a similar, or even the same, name as an applicant might be engaged in campaing activities does not mean that the applicant is engaged in those activities. Government is not allowed to treat people differentially just because of the name they choose for their organization like that.

It should be noted that political activity is expressly permitted to 501(c)(4) organizations - indeed, the IRS has made it clear that attempting to influence legislation is itself a social welfare activity:

As long as the legislation that an organization attempts to influence is germane to its social welfare purposes, the organization is engaged in activities that further social welfare purposes.

....which is why groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns have organized as 501(c)(4), even though they are definitely all about whipping up political influence in favor of their desired legislative outcomes.

The reason this is much ado about nothing is that even political organizations are entitled to the tax exemption these groups were seeking. In other words, they didn't even have to apply.

But they were denied the opportunity for an impartial review of their application. And it it is specious to claim that there's no consequence to that. Once the IRS failed to grant them that tax-exempt status, it would have been foolhardy for them to proceed based on the assumption that their activities would have ultimately been found to be tax exempt.

The whole point of being able to apply for these things is to get a safe harbour - to put the question to the IRS before you engage in various activities, so that you don't get sandbagged with a tax consequence at the end of the year if the IRS disagrees with your status. If the IRS starts improperly raising questions about your status when you apply for that safe harbour, not only are you denied the benefit of the determination, but you also have to question whether you will be found to qualify for the exemption at all. The IRS improperly created greater uncertainty for these groups during a time of intense public discussion of the health care law, budget issues, and other matters of public import that they would have liked to have had the opportunity to be active in, but were hindered by the IRS' behavior.

I would point out that no one from the Administration has claimed that the IRS' activity was appropriate (or harmless, for that matter). Indeed, the fact that all of these requests were ultimately approved makes the matter worse for the agency - the only effect of the review was to delay these groups from getting a confirmation to which they were legally entitled to get, and conservative groups were singled out to bear more of that burden of delay than other groups, based solely on their ideological self-identification. That's just wrong.

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