IRS targeted conservative college interns

Patrick Howley | Political Reporter

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) demanded information about conservative groups’ college-aged interns, prompting outrage from one of the country’s top conservative activist organizations and leading one former intern to wonder whether his family’s pizza parlor would be endangered.

The IRS requested, in an audit, the names of the conservative Leadership Institute’s 2008 interns, as well as specific information about their internship work and where the interns were employed in 2012, according to a document request the IRS sent to the Leadership Institute, dated February 14, 2012.

The IRS requested:

“Copies of applications for internships and summer programs; to include: lists of those selected for internships and students in 2008.
— In regards to such internships, please provide information regarding where the interns physically worked and how the placement was arranged.
— After completing internships and courses, where were the students and interns employed?”

The Arlington, Virginia-based Leadership Institute is a conservative activist training organization founded in 1979 by Virginia Republican National Committeeman Morton C. Blackwell, the youngest elected delegate to the 1964 Republican convention that nominated Barry Goldwater. The institute was audited in 2011. As The Daily Caller has reported, at least two different IRS offices made a concerted effort to obtain the group’s training materials.

The Leadership Institute’s audit, which was conducted by the IRS’ Baltimore office and which ended with no determination of wrongdoing but cost the conservative group $50,000 in legal fees, only covered the year 2008, leading employees to speculate that the IRS’ primary interest was figuring out how the group operates during a presidential election year.

“They were very interested in seeing what conservative organizations were doing in 2008, and where the interns from 2008 were now employed,” Leadership Institute vice president of programs David Fenner told the Daily Caller, adding that he “absolutely” believed the IRS audited information from 2008 because it was an election year.

“We declined to give them the names” of former interns, Fenner said.

“When you’re audited, you’re not told why you’re being audited. So the first round of questions are pretty basic and general. In the subsequent rounds they asked invasive questions. Those are the questions we declined to answer. It’s none of their business, and it’s not part of a legitimate audit,” Fenner said.

“It has the feel of a watch list,” Fenner added.

2008 Leadership Institute intern Shane McGonigal, who is now a Leadership Institute regional field coordinator, said that he feared his family’s pizza parlor could be jeopardized by the IRS’ audit.

“It didn’t just affect me, it affected my family too,” McGonigal, who was a 21-year old Virginia college student during his 2008 internship, told TheDC.

“My family opened up a CiCi’s pizza franchise in Virginia, where i was employed after my internship,” McGonigal said, adding that he was relived the Leadership Institute did not disclose his post-internship employer to the IRS.

“They could have audited my family’s business,” McGonigal said. “I was very concerned.”

The IRS also demanded information on the high school and college students trained by the conservative group Linchpins of Liberty.

LI — Intern Questions(1)

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