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GOP senators call for review amid concerns IRS targeting faith-based groups


Thirteen Republican senators, led by Jim Lankford of Oklahoma and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, asked the Internal Revenue Service Tuesday to review how it weighs tax-exemption applications for faith-based nonprofits.

The senators say there was an “apparent failure of quality controls” when the IRS first denied, and then under public scrutiny approved, a nonprofit designation for the Christians Engaged religious organization based in Garland, Texas.

That group received an “adverse decision” because of its self-described mission to encourage believers to pray for the nation, vote in elections, and engage “in some form of political education or activism.”

In the denial letter issued on May 18, the IRS stated Christians Engaged was ineligible for the nonprofit designation known as “501(c)(3) status” in part because “Bible teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican] party and candidates.”

The denial letter, signed by IRS employee Stephen A. Martin, director of the Exempt Organizations Unit’s Rulings and Agreements section, stated the group operates “for a substantial non-exempt private purpose and for the private interests” of the GOP.

“Agents are trained to process applications in a neutral fashion, void of politics or agents’ personal beliefs, and with adherence to the law and the facts of each application,” the senators wrote to Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George.

The letter added, “With this process in mind, our concern for the neutral and respectful consideration of all applications, particularly for those with a religious or faith-based mission in light of the perceived hostility toward Christians engaged in the IRS’s proposed adverse determination letter, has grown. It is important to ensure that the multiple steps the IRS identified, including layers of “quality control” review, are indeed based on law and fact, and absent extraneous and inappropriate commentary. As an agency within the federal government, the IRS should take care to ensure no decisions are based on bias for or against a political or religious viewpoint.”

The lawmakers want Mr. George to “fully describe the process and layers of review” involved when the Exempt Organizations branch evaluates applications and issues denials. They also want disclosure of the training provided to IRS employees who participate in the determination process, and “whether a particular emphasis is placed on civil and Constitutional rights during such training.”

The senators asked Mr. George to disclose “any remediation or sanctions processes that the IRS has in place if the review process fails, including when determinations are issued with biased, inappropriate, or extraneous commentary,” and how the process failed in the case of Christians Engaged.

Finally, they want to have “recommendations on ways the IRS can improve its processes, procedures, reviews, communication, and training regarding determinations of tax-exempt status for applicant organizations,” and for improving IRS communication with such groups.

According to a news release, Lankford and Sasse were joined by fellow Republican senators Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Mike Braun and Todd Young of Indiana, Steve Daines of Montana, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi.

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