A defining aspect of the American tradition is that groups of citizens band together for a wide variety of civic purposes. They recruit volunteers, raise funds and spend those funds to promote whatever project or cause brings them together.
For more than a century, our tax laws have recognized that such voluntary associations – non-profits, we call them today – should not be taxed, because their proceeds are devoted entirely to improve our communities through education, advocacy, and civic action. Section 501 of the Internal Revenue code recognizes them today, and civic groups like Move.org, the League of Conservation Voters, the ACLU, the National Rifle Association and various taxpayer groups have always been included in this definition.
We don’t apply a political test to these civic groups – we recognize the fundamental right of Americans to organize and to pool their resources to promote whatever causes they believe in – left or right. Indeed, whatever their political persuasion, these civic groups perform an absolutely indispensible role in our democracy by raising public awareness, defining issues, educating voters, promoting reforms, holding officials accountable and petitioning their government to redress grievances. Abolition, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights movement – all would have been impossible without them.
In order to be recognized as non-profit groups, these organizations must register with the IRS – a purely ministerial function that has, in the past, been applied evenly and without regard to their political views.
At least until now.
It seems that Tea Party groups are now being treated very differently than their counterparts on the political Left. For the last two years, many have been stone-walled by the IRS when they have sought to register as non-profits and most recently, they have been barraged with increasingly aggressive and threatening demands vastly outside the legal authority of the IRS. Indeed, the only conceivable purpose of some of these demands could be to intimidate and harass.