10/16 UPDATE: The Colorado Republican Party has called on Senator Bennet to recuse himself from any IRS investigation.
“Sen. Bennet played a role in pressuring the IRS to investigate conservative groups. Now, the Democratic Senatorial Committee Chairman is pretending he is surprised the IRS targeted conservatives and wants to investigate why the IRS targeted these groups. It’s outrageous,” Colorado Republican Committee Chairman Ryan Call said.
“Sen. Bennet would like us to believe that this is just a coincidence,” Call continued. “The fact is that he pressured the IRS to investigate conservative groups, and that is exactly what the IRS did. It is inappropriate for Sen. Bennet to investigate the very scandal in which it appears he had a role.
We need to get to the bottom of this scandal, but there is no we can if Sen. Bennet—who publicly pressured the IRS to investigate these groups—is playing judge.”
Did Sen. Michael Bennet, current chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), ask the Internal Revenue Service to investigate conservative groups? Was the IRS to read between the lines of his request?
A keen observation by View from a Height blogger Joshua Sharf may have tied Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Senator Bennet, who now chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, to the most recent Internal Revenue Service scandal. Late last week, the IRS came under scrutiny for targeting conservative groups, such as the Richmond Tea Party, for inappropriate intrusion into their business dealings.
According to the DailyMail, the Richmond Tea Party received a letter in January 2012 asking that they complete a 55-question document that requested such information as donors, contributors, and grantors from every year the organization had existed. It also asked for the names of volunteers with the organization.
The timing of the requests from the IRS, some in the early months of 2012, was particularly interesting in light of Sen. Bennet’s call for additional scrutiny of tax exempt organizations.
In February 2012, Sen. Bennet, along with several of his Senate colleagues, sent a letter to the Commissioner of the IRS, Douglas Shulman requesting additional scrutiny be given to 501(c)(4) organizations. Here is an excerpt of the letter from Sen. Bennet’s Senate web site:
“Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, along with Senators Al Franken (D-MN), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Tom Udall (D-NM), today called on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate whether organizations claiming tax-exempt status are engaging in a substantial amount of campaign activity.
In a letter to Douglas H. Shulman, commissioner of the IRS, the Senators requested the IRS enforce the law and prevent abuse of the tax code by organizations receiving tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), which is designated for “social welfare” organizations not engaged in election activity.
‘It is contrary to the letter and the spirit of the statute for political organizations formed primarily to advocate for a political candidate or to run attack ads against other candidates to take advantage of section 501(c)(4),” the Senators wrote in the letter. “We urge you to protect legitimate section 501(c)(4) entities by preventing non-conforming organizations that are focused on federal election activities from abusing the tax code.’”
While Bennet’s staff did not particularly suggest that the IRS target conservative groups in its letter, Bennet’s press release used Karl Rove as an example of a group that should be reviewed:
“For instance, long-time partisan operative Karl Rove is a senior official behind a 501(c)(4) ‘social welfare’ charity, yet it’s common knowledge that his organization exists to elect and defeat specific political candidates. Elections operations such as Mr. Rove’s should not be allowed to masquerade as charities to take advantage of their tax exempt status and hide their donors from the public. It’s the IRS’s job to enforce the tax code and make sure that ‘social welfare’ organizations are what they say they are.”
Were IRS officials simply reading between the lines of Bennet’s request? Does the timing even matter? When the IRS Commissioner receives a letter co-signed by some of the most-recognized U.S. Senators in the land, is that not a clear strong-arming technique?
Other questions that come to mind: which 501(c)(4)s (besides Karl Rove’s outfit) was Bennet referring to in his press release? The Senator asked for a response from the IRS, did he receive one? Will Bennet furnish it?
UPDATE: During today’s press conference, Obama spokesman Jay Carney categorically denied that Obama’s campaign team knew about the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups. A little research showed that two of the signatories to the letter asking the IRS to investigate possible 501(C)(4) violations were named as national co-chairs to Obama’s 2012 re-election effort just days later. Those two? Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and our very own Michael Bennet. Is the White House still denying a connection?
UPDATE 2: Bennet’s spokesman responds to our post via MSNBC’s new Denver bureau chief, Eli Stokols:
— Eli Stokols (@EliStokols) May 14, 2013
Bennet’s spox (2/2): “But [IRS] issue is serious; targeting any people or organizations based on political ideology is wrong.” #COpolitics
— Eli Stokols (@EliStokols) May 14, 2013
It doesn’t take a time machine to go back to February 2012 when Bennet singled out a conservative group for the IRS to target…which is exactly what they did. Nor does it take a time machine to see that Bennet was rewarded by Obama only 10 days after sending the IRS letter by being named a national co-chair of the Obama re-election effort.