At the same time the IRS harassed Republican nonprofit groups during the 2012 political campaign, it selectively advised black churches and other Democrat nonprofits on how far they can go in campaigning for President Obama and other Democrats.
This raw exercise in political favoritism has not been reported in the context of the still-smoldering IRS scandal, in which the agency in 2012 audited big GOP donors and blocked Tea Party groups trying to obtain tax-exempt status as part of what House investigators suspect was an effort to re-elect the president.
But that same year, top officials with both the IRS and Justice Department – including the IRS commissioner and attorney general – met in Washington with several dozen prominent black church ministers representing millions of voters to brief them on how to get their flocks out to vote without breaking federal tax laws.
The “summit” on energizing the black vote in houses of worship was hosted by the Democrat-controlled Congressional Black Caucus inside the U.S. Capitol on May 30, 2012.
The day before the special IRS training session, then-Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver predicted Obama would get 95% of the African-American vote – but only if black pastors “encourage” them to get to the polls. (He ended up getting over 93% of the black vote.)
IRS Goes To Church
At the time, many African-Americans were unhappy that Obama came out in support of gay marriage. So Democrats gathered them in Washington for a “pep talk,” which included assurances their tax exemption would be safe if they helped deliver the vote.
It’s not clear if the White House helped organize the unusual event, but two key Cabinet members – Attorney General Eric Holder and IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman – both spoke at length to the black church leaders.
Joining them was senior IRS official Peter Lorenzetti, who runs the agency’s tax-exempt organizations division. He gave a technical briefing in which he advised against endorsing from the pulpit any candidates by name or distributing voter cheat sheets.
Then Lorenzetti hastened to add: “It is important to note, however, that an organization exempt under 501(c)3 – in this case the church or a religious organization – can conduct educational election activities,” including holding political debates or even inviting candidates to speak to congregants.
Get-out-the-vote activities also are allowed, including driving church members to polls and knocking on doors to register people to vote.