NAACP Asks Inspector General to Review IRS Actions Regarding Release of Documents Related to Tax Exempt Probe

The NAACP has asked J. Russell George, Inspector General of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), to review the Internal Revenue Service's handling of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests related to an IRS audit of the Association's tax-exempt status. Documents released before the IRS abruptly stopped the process reflect complaints from members of Congress and at least one influential political donor.

"Many aspects of the IRS's examination have been irregular, and the IRS's processing of [FOIA] requests is no exception," attorneys representing the NAACP said in a letter to George. "We are writing to request that you assure the NAACP that the IRS's handling of these requests has been appropriate and without improper influence," said attorneys Marcus S. Owens and Christopher S. Rizek.

The IRS initiated an audit of the NAACP on October 8, 2004, just one month before the 2004 presidential election and nearly three months before the end of the NAACP's tax year. The IRS alleged that a speech by Chairman Julian Bond in July 2004 at the NAACP's annual convention was a form of political campaign intervention. The NAACP has submitted three FOIA requests to the IRS and a fourth request to the Inspector General in an attempt to determine why the audit was commenced. Despite the fact that the examination has been open for more than 18 months, the IRS has not contacted the NAACP in over a year.

The first FOIA request was submitted to the IRS National Office on February 14, 2005. On February 22, 2005, the NAACP submitted two additional requests to the Disclosure Offices in both the Dallas and Cincinnati offices of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division. The IRS informed the NAACP in early March 2005 that responses to those requests would be centralized in the Headquarters Disclosure Office. A fourth FOIA request was submitted to TIGTA on June 8, 2005, for information acquired in TIGTA's investigation of the commencement of the audit.

"The NAACP is committed to ensuring that the IRS fairly and equitably administers the tax laws, which includes pursuing our rights available under the Freedom of Information Act. Regrettably, we have no choice but to assume that the IRS's incredible delay in responding to our requests for information about the NAACP's tax files confirms that the agency has something to hide regarding its motives in initiating the audit," said Bruce S. Gordon, NAACP President and CEO.

In March 2005, the NAACP received a partial response to its first request in the form of some heavily and inconsistently redacted documents that apparently originated from files in the IRS National Office. In April 2005, the NAACP learned that additional documents had been found in the Dallas office and that they were being reviewed for possible redaction. Any further release of documents was abruptly terminated and the processing of the FOIA requests was shifted to an IRS office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Once brought together, the documents that have been produced may shed some light on the IRS's rationale for initiating the audit of the NAACP. The documents include complaints filed by members of Congress on behalf of constituents including Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), then-Senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), Representatives JoAnn Davis (R-Va.) and Larry Combest (R-Texas), then-Representatives Robert Ehrlich (R-Md.) and Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.) and political donor Richard Hug. In the interest of ensuring transparency, integrity and fairness in the administration of the tax law, the NAACP will release copies of all the documents provided thus far by request.

"It is extremely frustrating that over a year has elapsed with no sign of the documents," said Gordon. "It seems the IRS can rush to initiate an audit but prefers to drag its feet when responding to this taxpayer's requests for information to which we are entitled." Gordon added, "In contrast, TIGTA produced documents within three months of the NAACP's request."

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