The NAACP announced yesterday that it is refusing to comply with an Internal Revenue Service investigation into its tax-exempt status that was launched last year after its chairman criticized the Bush administration in a speech.
Interim President Dennis Hayes said the probe, ordered just weeks before the presidential election, "was clearly motivated by partisan politics and intended to divert us from impartial voter registration." The NAACP and other groups registered thousands of black voters, a group that, exit polls showed, voted heavily against the president in November.
John F. Kerry salutes NAACP Chairman Julian Bond at the group's convention.
(Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)
The IRS said its investigation seeks to determine whether Julian Bond violated federal regulations that bar certain tax-exempt organizations from engaging in most forms of political activity. Bond's comments about Bush and Democratic Party leaders were made during the NAACP's annual convention last summer in Philadelphia.
"The timing of the investigation is critical here," said Angela Ciccolo, an attorney for the NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. "The remarks were made in July, and in October, when we're trying to register African American voters, we get this order. We think it's important to stand up to this type of intimidation, especially in an election year."
Ciccolo said the NAACP would not respond to an IRS summons that requested Bond's speech and specific financial information. Ciccolo declined to reveal the specifics of the IRS request.
In a letter to the IRS sent late last week, the NAACP said Bond's statements "were consistent with the organization's long-standing practice of advocating positions in the interest of minorities in the United States without regard to election cycles."
IRS spokesman Terry Lemons, echoing previous remarks by IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson, said the investigation is not politically motivated. "The bottom line is that when we make a decision, it is based on tax law. It is not based on politics," Lemons said.
The IRS can take a number of steps when a person or agency fails to respond to a summons, Lemons said, including dismissing the case or requesting further investigation by the Justice Department.
The probe was launched Oct. 8 in the heat of the presidential race. Three weeks later, Reps. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) wrote Everson to express outrage and request an explanation.
The congressmen wrote that "it is obvious that the timing of this IRS examination is nothing more than an effort to intimidate members of the NAACP, and the communities the organization represents, in their get-out-the-vote effort nationwide."
Everson replied that two other congressmen, whom he declined to name, requested an investigation. Everson wrote in a December letter that other nonreligious charitable organizations were being investigated for similar reasons.
"We sent letters to twenty non-church organizations between August 31 and November 2, 2004," the commissioner wrote. "A review of the names of those organizations indicates that the group represents a broad cross-section of the tax-exempt community and a wide range of viewpoints."