Progressives urged IRS to revoke conservatives’ tax-exemptions in 2012

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
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The online petition platform Change.org hosted multiple petitions during the 2012 presidential campaign from users who urged Lois G. Lerner, director of the Internal Revenue Service’s Exempt Organizations Division, to revoke the tax-exempt status of conservative organizations including the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

Lerner is currently under fire after she admitted that her division targeted conservative and Tea Party nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny in 2012, for which she apologized Friday. The IRS began targeting conservative groups for extra audits in 2010, well before the petitions appeared.

NOM released a statement Monday accusing the IRS of leaking confidential information during the presidential campaign revealing that Mitt Romney had contributed to the group.

“There is little question that one or more employees at the IRS stole our confidential tax return and leaked it to our political enemies, in violation of federal law,” said NOM president Brian Brown.

“We’ve seen in recent days an admission that the IRS intentionally targeted conservative groups for harassment and scrutiny,” Brown said, “but what NOM has experienced suggests that problems at the IRS are potentially far more serious than even these latest revelations reveal,” Brown said.

A petition created approximately one year ago by self-identified former NOM employee Louis Marinelli bore the title, “Lois G. Lerner: Revoke 501(c)4 tax-exempt status of the National Organization for Marriage.”

Marinelli’s petition stated that NOM does not meet the IRS’ standards for 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, which must “not be organized for profit and must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare,” according to the IRS.

“As a former member of the National Organization for Marriage’s paid staff, I can attest to the fact that the organization fills no social welfare purpose. Instead, the organization is privately about advancing a religious doctrine which would align it more under the rules of 501(c)3 for religious and church organizations,” Marinelli wrote in the introductory statement for his petition.

“Furthermore, I witnessed on several occasions during my time with the organization how tax-exempt financial resources were used rather exorbitantly to pay for staff member’s meals and accommodations. Trips to casinos and regular steak/lobster dinners at elite restaurants in Washington, D.C. and frankly anywhere their staff travels puts into question whether or not they are organized for financial benefit of their staff,” Marinelli wrote.

“This petition takes no issue with their 501(c)3 tax-exemption,” Marinelli wrote, clarifying that he was only encouraging Lerner to revoke the group’s 501(c)(4) status.

The petition, which received 309 signatures, was supported by signers like “Kevin Smith” of Standish, Maine, who wrote, “NOM fights for heterosupremacy, not social welfare. Bigotry should not be tax-exempt.”

Marinelli received significant media attention in 2011 after changing his stance on gay marriage and slamming his former employer.

“Having spent the last five years putting all of my political will, interest and energy into fighting against the spread of same-sex marriage as if it were a contagious disease, I must admit that it is hard for me to put the following text into words let alone utter them with my own voice…My name is Louis J. Marinelli, a conservative-Republican and I now support full civil marriage equality. The constitution calls for nothing less,” Marinelli wrote in an April 2011 piece for his personal website cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

Marinelli claimed that he changed his stance on gay marriage after participating in NOM’s 2010 “Summer for Marriage Tour,” on which he met gay-rights activists he found “inspiring.”

Another Change.org petition from 2012 urged Lerner to “investigate violations of federal tax law” by pro-life, anti-gay marriage pastor Charles Worley, who urged his congregants not to vote for President Obama in 2012, according to the petition.

The advocacy group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State sent a letter to Lerner dated May 23, 2012 stating that Worley’s criticism of Obama in a sermon “Who ya gonna vote for?’ I ain’t gonna vote for a baby killer and a homosexual lover,” violated his church’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

“As you know, federal tax law prohibits churches and other 501(c)(3) nonprofits from intervening in elections on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office,” according to the letter, signed by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State executive director Barry W. Lynn. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has received funding from the ACLU Foundation and the pro-LGBT Horizons Foundation, according to its 2010 annual report [pdf].
“I believe Pastor Worley’s comments represent a clear violation of federal law. I urge you to investigate this matter,” Lynn’s letter stated.
Change.org is officially a neutral petition platform, but critics have noted its propensity toward hosting left-leaning petitions, and the organization initially did not support campaigns or advertising from conservative groups. The company reversed that policy last October — outraging many progressives.

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