The official at the center of the Internal Revenue Service tea party scandal once dismissed complaints that labor unions were not reporting millions of dollars in political activities on their tax forms, according to an email obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
In 2007, Lerner responded directly to a complaint that some major labor unions reported completely different amounts of political expenditures when filing with the IRS and the Department of Labor.
At the time of the email, Lerner was the Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS.
Lerner wrote, “We looked at the information you provided regarding organizations that report substantial amounts of political activity and lobbying expenditures on the DOL Form LM-2, but report little to no political expenditures on the Form 990 filed with the IRS.”
“We believe this difference in reporting does not necessarily indicate that the organization has incorrectly reported to either the DOL or the IRS,” Lerner concluded.
Don Todd, the deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) at the time the email was sent, confirmed seeing Lerner’s email and remembering similar complaints at the time. OLMS oversees labor union financial disclosures within the Department of Labor.
“The laws never been enforced,” Todd told TheDCNF. “The IRS was telling us it would cost more to enforce the law then they would collect.”
In 2006, the year leading up to Lerner’s email, the national headquarters for the AFL-CIO reported no direct or indirect political expenditures with the IRS on their 990 form, leaving the line 81a blank. That same year, the AFL-CIO reported $29,585,661 in political activities with the Department of Labor.
Also in 2006 the Teamsters Union reported no political expenditures with the IRS while at the same time reporting $7,081,965 with the Labor Department.
Again in 2006, Unite-Here reported no political activity with the IRS and $1,451,002 with the Labor Department.
In 2005, the National Education Association also reported no political expenditures with the IRS while at the same time reporting $24,985,250 with the Labor Department.
Labor union political spending overwhelmingly benefits Democrats. Todd told TheDNCF Lerner may have been playing favorites. Lerner has been accused of singling out tea party groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Lerner acknowledged in the 2007 email, “The definition of political campaign activity required to be reported on Form LM2 coincides with the definition of political campaign activity expenditures required to be reported on Form 990.”
But she did offer some possible reasons for the discrepancies. “The Form LM-2 does not separate this reporting from the reporting of lobbying expenditures,” she wrote. “Furthermore, even if section 501(c)(5) labor organizations were required to report their lobbying expenditures, the amount required to be reported on Form LM-2 includes activity, such as attempting to influence regulations, that is not required to be reported as lobbying, as the IRS limitations apply to legislative lobbying.”
Lerner conceded, “Having said that, we did see some instances that raised concerns and we referred that information to our Dallas office to determine whether examination is warranted.” It does not appear any further investigation was conducted.
The Bush administration mandated more detailed disclosure requirements for labor unions, but they were relaxed by the Obama administration’s Labor Department.
An IRS spokesman told TheDCNF the agency had no “immediate comment” on the matter.
It’s not just the Tea Party that the IRS is giving extra scrutiny to, it’s also checking into church sermons. According to Investor’s Business Daily, the IRS agreed to an atheist group’s demands “to monitor sermons and homilies for proscribed speech that the foundation believes includes things like condemnation of gay marriage and criticism of ObamaCare for its contraceptive mandate.”
The division in charge of enforcing this review of religious speech, the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division, was once headed by IRS scandal figure Lois Lerner. So far the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) networks have yet to run with this stunning story on any of their evening or morning news programs.
On July 31, Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) opened their editorial headlined “IRS Strikes Deal With Atheists To Monitor Churches,” this way:
First Amendment: Government’s assault on religious liberty has hit a new low as the IRS settles with atheists by promising to monitor sermons for mentions of the right to life and traditional marriage.
A lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) asserted that the Internal Revenue Service ignored complaints about churches’ violating their tax-exempt status by routinely promoting political issues, legislation and candidates from the pulpit.
The FFRF has temporarily withdrawn its suit in return for the IRS’s agreement to monitor sermons and homilies for proscribed speech that the foundation believes includes things like condemnation of gay marriage and criticism of ObamaCare for its contraceptive mandate.
The irony of this agreement is that it’s being enforced by the same Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division of the IRS that was once headed by Lois “Fifth Amendment” Lerner and that openly targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups.
Among the questions that the IRS asked of those targeted groups was the content of their prayers.
Those who objected to the monitoring of what is said and done in mosques for signs of terrorist activity have no problem with this one, though monitoring what’s said in houses of worship is a clear violation of the First Amendment. Can you say “chilling effect”?
Congress can make no laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion. So it’s not clear where the IRS gets off doing just that by spying on religious leaders lest they comment on issues and activities by government that are contrary to or impose on their religious consciences. Our country was founded by people fleeing this kind of government-monitored and mandated theology last practiced in the Soviet Union.
The Federal Election Commission recycled the computer hard drive of April Sands – a former co-worker of Lois Lerner’s – hindering an investigation into Sands’ partisan political activities, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Sands resigned from the Federal Election Commission in April after she admitted to violating the Hatch Act, which bars executive branch employees from engaging in partisan political activities on federal time and at federal facilities.
The twist is that Sands also worked under Lois Lerner when the ex-IRS agent – who is currently embroiled in a scandal over the targeting of conservative political groups – worked at the FEC’s enforcement division.
In a letter to FEC chairman Lee Goodman, committee chairman Darrell Issa and committee member Jim Jordan laid out Sands’ partisan activities and asked for records pertaining to the recycling of her hard drive and of the agency’s records retention policies.
Sands took part in a heavily partisan online webcam discussion from FEC offices and also operated a Twitter account with the handle @ReignOfApril which were sent during Sands’ normal working hours.
One of Sands’ tweets, from June 4, 2012 read “I just don’t understand how anyone but straight white men can vote Republican. What kind of delusional rhetorical [sic] does one use?”
Sands is a black female.
“Dear every single Republican ever, When will U learn that Barack Hussein Obama is simply smarter than U? Stand down, Signed #Obama2012 #p2,” Sands wrote on May 1, 2012.
In a message from Aug. 25, 2012, Sands called Republicans her “enemy.”
In others, Sands issued fundraising pleas on behalf of Obama. “Our #POTUS’s birthday is August 4. He’ll be 51. I’m donating $51 to give him the best birthday present ever: a second term,” she wrote on July 18, 2012.
“The bias in these messages is striking, especially for an attorney charged with the responsibility to enforce federal election laws fairly and dispassionately,” read the committee’s letter to Goodman, an Obama appointee.
The FEC’s Office of Inspector General sought to conduct a criminal investigation into Sands’ activities but were stymied when they found that the agency had recycled her computer hard drive.
“Therefore the OIG was unable to show that Ms. Sands’ solicitations and political activity were done from an FEC computer,” reads the letter.
Because of this, the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia declined criminal prosecution.
“The FEC’s failure to retain Ms. Sands’ hard drive prevented the FEC OIG from fully pursuing appropriate criminal sanctions for Ms. Sands’ admitted violation of federal law,” wrote Issa and Jordan.
“Like the IRS’s destruction of Lois Lerner’s hard drive, the FEC’s recycling of Ms. Sands’ hard drive may have also destroyed material responsive to Freedom of Information Act and congressional oversight requests,” the letter continued.
Lerner’s computer hard drive crashed in the middle of 2011, right around the time that questions were being raised over whether the IRS’s enforcement agency was targeting conservative non-profit groups while considering whether to grant them tax-exempt status.
News of the loss of Lerner’s emails was only made public last month, much to the frustration of Issa and the Oversight Committee.
Though it is unclear whether Sands and Lerner communicated after Lerner’s move to the FEC, the Oversight Committee letter points out that Lerner was known to have communicated with other FEC employees after her switch. That correspondence included the sharing of information protected by section 6103 of the tax code, the letter notes.
U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa has put an end to a political witch hunt by local Wisconsin prosecutors that featured a secret investigation more reminiscent of a banana republic than the world’s foremost democracy. In two orders – one of which termed the prosecutors’ appeal of his decision as “frivolous” – Randa ordered local prosecutors to “cease all activities related to the investigation” and to return all of the records and documents they had seized from dozens of conservative advocacy organizations.
Judge Randa concluded that local prosecutors, led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, were attempting to criminalize the political speech of about 30 conservative organizations, including Wisconsin Club for Growth. These prosecutors had instigated “a secret John Doe investigation replete with armed raids on homes to collect evidence.” The prosecutors were upset apparently over the organizations’ support of legislation pushed by Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees. They claimed it was a criminal violation for independent organizations to engage in political speech and political advocacy in support of Gov. Walker’s proposed legislation. Judge Randa ruled the prosecutors had a “long-running investigation of all things Walker-related.”
Judge Randa’s description of the appalling tactics used by the prosecutors is shocking. The head of WCG, Eric O’Keefe, as well as his advisors and employees, were treated like members of a drug cartel. Armed officers conducted raids in the early morning hours, with sheriff deputy vehicles using “bright floodlights to illuminate” the activists’ homes. Deputies executed search warrants “seizing business papers, computer equipment, phones, and other devices, while their targets were restrained under police supervision and denied the ability to contact their attorneys,” the judge wrote. Just as bad, O’Keefe and the other targets of the investigation also were served with subpoenas that included a “Secrecy Order” telling them they could not reveal anything about the investigation or the seizure of their property and records “under penalty of perjury.”
According to Judge Randa, the list of advocacy groups subpoenaed by the prosecutors “indicates that all or nearly all right-of-center groups and individuals in Wisconsin who engaged in issue advocacy from 2010 to the present are targets of the investigation.” And yet because of the Secrecy Order, the victims of this prosecutorial abuse were unable to exercise their right to complain in public about an offensive investigation and obnoxious police tactics aimed at restricting their First Amendment rights to speak about important public policy issues.
Judge Randa said the prosecutors’ interpretation of the law was “simply wrong”:
“The defendants are pursuing criminal charges through a secret John Doe investigation against the plaintiffs for exercising issue advocacy speech rights that on their face are not subject to the regulations or statutes the defendants seek to enforce.”
Randa’s condemnation of the Wisconsin prosecutors was stinging. He said he was “left to wonder” if the prosecutors had “actually read the complaint” O’Keefe filed against them. He had “no idea why the defendants even attempted to raise” some of their defenses and characterized them as “the height of frivolousness.” Most importantly, the judge held that the prosecutors were not entitled to immunity from civil liability because they had acted without probable cause.
This means that not only has the judge put a halt to the criminal investigation being conducted by the prosecutors, but the lawsuit filed by O’Keefe against the prosecutors for violating his civil rights will go forward. The judgment could be substantial. O’Keefe said his organization lost $2 million as a result of the investigation, which “devastated” its ability to advocate for Walker’s reforms.
The use of the tremendous power given to law enforcement officials to target political speech they do not like is one of the greatest threats to our liberty and freedom of speech. Although the tactics these prosecutors used have now been rebuked in court, voters should remember this shameful behavior. And the Wisconsin legislature should immediately act to rid of the state of a statute that allows Star Chamber proceedings that impinge upon our cherished First Amendment rights.