- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2001

The Internal Revenue Service has been asked to investigate accusations that several civil rights groups and other nonprofit organizations violated their federal tax-exempt status by participating in lobbying efforts against the nomination of John Ashcroft as attorney general.
The Landmark Legal Foundation, a conservative public-interest law firm, asked the IRS in a letter Friday to investigate whether dozens of nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations that participated in "recent lobbying activities" against Mr. Ashcroft properly reported those activities on their tax filings.
"Inasmuch as several of these organizations have announced their intention to conduct similar lobbying efforts against future appointments, the IRS must ensure that these tax-exempt groups comply with federal law," said Landmark President Mark R. Levin.
Mr. Levin, former chief of staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese III, said that under the law, lobbying efforts by tax-exempt organizations trigger reporting requirements that could result in tax liabilities. He said that more than 200 organizations met Jan. 9 at the headquarters of the American Association of University Women, a tax-exempt group, where they began an "unprecedented lobbying campaign" against Mr. Ashcroft.
Among the organizations that attended the meeting, Mr. Levin said, were at least 18 tax-exempt groups that received more than $150 million in federal funds between 1996 and 1999. He said another 34 tax-exempt organizations participated in lobbying activities against Mr. Ashcroft as a result of the meeting.
"The IRS must look at these activities very carefully to ensure that these organizations are not skirting the law or failing to pay their taxes," Mr. Levin said. He said lobbying by tax-exempt organizations intended to influence presidential appointments is "political activity under the Internal Revenue Code and must be reported to the IRS."
In his letter, Mr. Levin identified some of the tax-exempt groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Education Association and the National Black Women's Health Project.
Mr. Levin said tax-exempt organizations receiving federal awards, grants or loans are prohibited from lobbying altogether.
The Jan. 9 meeting was called by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, whose director, Wade Henderson, told those gathered that they were seeking to form "an extraordinary and unprecedented nationwide campaign" to oppose the Ashcroft nomination.
Several lobbying committees were created during the meeting, each assigned a specific task. The NAACP, for example, was selected to gather and disseminate information about Mr. Ashcroft's leadership role in the rejection of black Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White for a seat on the federal bench.
Mr. Levin also said that several Democratic congressional staff members attended the Jan. 9 meeting, including members of the office of Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat. He said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, attended a Jan. 13 meeting organized by Massachusetts' National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) during which 40 organizations lobbied Mr. Kerry against the Ashcroft nomination.
Mr. Ashcroft's nomination as attorney general was held up for five weeks over questions of race, religion, gun control, abortion and other challenges by Senate Democrats. After rancorous debate, the Senate confirmed him Thursday by a 58-42 vote.
Landmark already has sued the National Education Association, accusing the teachers union of violating election and tax laws in a "systematic political strategy" to influence federal elections. In June, the law firm complained to the IRS and the Federal Election Commission that money from the union's treasury was being used illegally for political campaigns. It also said the donations were not being reported to the IRS as required by law.
Landmark also asked the IRS to investigate NEA tax filings showing zero political expenditures during the past several years.
NEA officials have denied any wrongdoing, saying they are confident federal laws have been followed. They have said the organization's tax filings have been "thoroughly reviewed and approved by the IRS" and that the NEA continues to follow "practices that have passed muster with the IRS."
The NEA has tax-exempt status as a union but must report political expenses "direct and indirect" on tax returns. The NEA, with 16,000 local associations and 2.5 million members throughout the United States, is the nation's largest labor union for teachers.
Landmark contends the NEA has circumvented legal restrictions on its political activities, saying in its complaints to the IRS and the FEC that the union's political activity has violated tax and campaign-finance laws.
Since at least 1994, Landmark said, the NEA supplemented legal political expenditures by its segregated political action committees with millions of dollars in political expenditures from its general budget. Landmark said these expenditures have neither been fully accounted for nor reported to the IRS as taxable income as required by law.

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