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IRS stalled conservative groups, but gave speedy approval to Obama foundation

During a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Obama called for an investigation into the IRS, saying, “We’ve got to make sure that it is doing its job scrupulously.” (Sandi Moynihan/The Washington Post)

When the Barack H. Obama Foundation sought tax-exempt status to raise money for good works in Kenya, the Internal Revenue Service provided quick help.

The IRS approved charitable status for the foundation, which was run by President Obama’s brother and named after his father, in about a month’s time. The IRS also agreed to give the group this important financial status retroactively, back to 2009, when it had begun its fundraising.

The 34 days the IRS’s Cincinnati office took to process the foundation’s application stands in contrast to the waits of several months — and sometimes longer than a year — that several conservative groups say they experienced with the same office. Obama has apologized, saying Americans have a right to be angry that the office improperly targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny.

The IRS handling of the Obama-named group was revealed this week by a conservative watchdog group, the National Legal and Policy Center, and reported by the Daily Caller on Thursday. The Washington Post confirmed reports through public records of the group’s application and the IRS approval letter, signed by the unit director Lois Lerner.

Abon’go Malik Obama, the foundation’s executive director and the president’s brother, was not immediately available for comment. IRS and White House officials did not return calls and e-mails.

In 2009, the Barack H. Obama Foundation was accused by the National Legal and Policy Center of being a scofflaw. The group had been promoting itself as a charity and seeking donations that it said would be tax-deductible, but it lacked the required tax-exempt status. Groups must have or have an active application for tax-exempt status to solicit such donations.

Ken Boehm, executive director of the National Legal and Policy Center, said he found it “highly suspicious” — given that the average application took five to six months to approve — that the foundation received a speedy nod and retroactive cover.

“They were a sham charity,” he said. “You would think that would be a reason for more questions and scrutiny, and not a fast pass to go through the speedy line. All of that together just didn’t smell right. They were getting much faster service than average 501(c)(3) applicant.”

Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.

Carol Leonnig covers federal agencies with a focus on government accountability.


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