Attorney General Eric Holder and IRS officials advised black ministers on how to engage in political activity during the 2012 election without violating their tax-exempt status.
Holder, then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman, and Peter Lorenzetti, a senior official in the scandal-plagued agency’s exempt organizations division, participated in a May 2012 training session for black ministers from the Conference of National Black Churches at the U.S. Capitol hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Holder spoke at the event.
“We’re going to, first of all, equip them with the information they need to know about what they can say and what they cannot say in the church that would violate their 501(c)(3) status with the IRS,” said then-CBC chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri. “In fact, we’re going to have the IRS administrator there. We’re going to have Attorney General Eric Holder there…the ACLU.”
Cleaver’s session advised black ministers on “draconian laws” including voter ID laws. Cleaver was a sharp critic during the 2012 campaign of Republican Mitt Romney’s policies.
As The Daily Caller has extensively reported, the IRS harassed conservative and tea party groups during the 2012 election cycle with improper reviews of their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt applications.
“[The CBC] had the IRS members there specifically to advise them on how far to go campaigning without violating their tax-exempt status,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told The Daily Caller.
“I viewed the meeting as highly problematic. Eric Holder heads the agency that prosecutes organizations who give false information to the government. The Justice Department coordinates with the IRS on actions taken against not-for-profits. These ministries are given not-for-profit status on the basis that they are not engaging in any political activities. Here, the Obama administration was clearly encouraging them to maximize their efforts by showing them where the lines were drawn in federal case law,” Turley said.
“It is a fundamental precept that cabinet members should not engage in political activities. The most important of those cabinet members would be the attorney general of the United States. To have the attorney general actively advising political allies of the president showed remarkably poor judgment on his part,” Turley told TheDC.
“I believe this session undermined the integrity of the justice department, signaled to other Justice Department officials that the attorney general wants to support these black ministries as much as possible,” Turley said.
Obama won 93 percent of the black vote in 2012, according to exit polling.
“This event was open to all faiths, denominations, colors, creeds, and political affiliations,” Rep. Cleaver told TheDC in a statement. “We were pleased to have leaders from our government provide information on compliance with the law and participation in our electoral system.”
The IRS and DOJ did not return requests for comment.