Schumer not to blame for IRS scandal

Chuck Schumer easily makes my list of the ten politicians I dislike most. So my ears perked up when I heard that, in 2012, he signed a letter that, as it has been characterized, told the IRS to go after conservative groups. The other signers were Sens. Bennet, Whitehouse, Merkley, Udall, Shaheen, and Franken.

The letter can be found on Schumer’s website. I don’t read it as calling on the IRS to do anything improper, nor would Schumer have posted such a call in an open letter posted on his website.

The letter asks that IRS “change the administrative framework for enforcement of the tax code as it applies to groups designated as ‘social welfare’ organizations” — i.e., groups that receive tax and other advantages under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. It points out that some of these groups are engaged in a substantial amount of political campaign activity, and argues that this fact should disqualify the groups from 501(c)(4) status.

The letter acknowledges that, as IRS interprets the law, social welfare need only be the primary purpose of a 501(c) organization, not its exclusive purpose. But Schumer and the others express their disagreement with this interpretation.

The letter concludes by asking the IRS to take three administrative steps:

First, we urge the IRS to adopt a bright line test in applying its “primary purpose” regulation that is consistent with the Code’s 501(c)(4) exclusivity language.

Second, such organizations should be further obligated to document in their 990 IRS form the exact percentage of their undertakings dedicated to “social welfare.”

Third, 501(c)(4) organizations should be required to state forthrightly to potential donors what percentage of a donation, if any, may be taken as a business expense deduction.

The letter does not call for discrimination against conservative 501(c)(4) groups, nor does it call for harassment. The first action item is a matter of legal interpretation. The second pertains to documentation regarding the central question in determining 501(c)(4) status under IRS regs. The third is a matter of transparency to donors.

It’s possible that overzealous bureaucrats may have seized upon the letter as a pretext for harassing conservative organizations. But legislators are entitled to make non-improper requests of a bureaucracy even though the bureaucrats may construe them as a mandate to proceed improperly.

Unless there’s other evidence of Schumer’s involvement, I don’t we can blame him for what the IRS did.