Here's an excerpt of a piece from Fareed Zakaria's GPS Blog this morning, entitled Muslims to Tea Party: Welcome to our world (excerpt reprinted with permission from the editor of Fareed Zakaria's GPS):
Reports that the Internal revenue Service has been targeting Tea Party-affiliated nonprofit organizations has grabbed headlines, but should come as no surprise. In part because of ten years of expanding government powers, much of it under the guise of national security, selective enforcement of the law has increasingly become a norm rather than an aberration. But some in the Muslim community might have a question – why are conservatives so surprised (and outraged) by this news when Muslim nonprofits and their leaders have been under intense scrutiny for over a decade? And when so many Muslim groups and individuals have faced scrutiny simply for the religion they follow? Within months after 9/11, the U.S. government shut down the three largest Muslim American charities as part of a broader scorched earth strategy that sent a chill across American Muslim communities nationwide. Their boards of directors were arrested and many were prosecuted on pretextual violations of immigration or tax laws. None of the charities had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda, or the Taliban. That they were Islamic charities was all the government needed to seal their fate before a suspicious and traumatized American public. Since then, new Muslim charitable organizations have faced heightened scrutiny from the IRS, with applications for many seeking nonprofit status taking years to process. My experience representing some of these organizations, and the anecdotes I hear from other attorneys in the same boat, have turned up example after example of selective targeting.
Read more on Fareed Zakaria's GPS here.
As an attorney with a large focus on nonprofits and tax law, I've encountered pushback from the IRS many times. But what I've always found most interesting is that the pushback I encountered was when representing groups that gave substantial amounts to Tea Party causes. Or alternatively, groups that gave substantial amounts in Israel.
On the flip side, the Muslim nonprofits I've represented sailed through the IRS with a few questions-- or sometimes no questions at all. In fact, there have only been two times I've had questions regarding Muslim nonprofits: Once was when one of the board members of a particular nonprofit had studied in Syria. Another instance was when the IRS pushed back against a Muslim group who conducted activities that the IRS initially claimed were more recreational than charitable.
And even then, these issues were resolved in a matter of weeks with a simple response letter, explaining the exempt mission of the nonprofit.
My experiences could have much to do with the magnitude of the Muslim nonprofits I represented versus the size of the nonmuslim ones, the latter being much more influential.
And any selective targeting I've witnessed with Muslim nonprofit groups has come from local agencies, such as the County Assessor's office and the zoning authorities.
Nevertheless, any upheaval in the way the IRS handles charities is a headache for the philanthropy world, whether they're targeting the conservative groups, liberal groups, or groups of any particular faith.