The Washington Post today reported on the IRS's audit of a Texas nonprofit organization that played a critical role in publicizing information about Tom DeLay's campaign finances. See R. Jeffrey Smith, Texas Nonprofit Is Cleared After GOP-Prompted Audit (Feb. 27, 2006) at A03.
It appears that Sam Johnson, a Texas Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee who is a long-term ally of Tom DeLay, wrote a letter dated Aug. 3, 2004 to ask the IRS to review Texans for Public Justice and an affiliated foundation and to report back to him "directly" on its findings. Johnson said he "had uncovered some disturbing information" and had received complaints about tax violations. When asked by the Post to specify the disturbing information he had uncovered as subcommittee chair responsible for IRS oversight, Johnson's staff did not come forward with information. As for complaints, one (perhaps the only one) came from Barnaby Zall, also a close ally of DeLay. Id.
The group publishes studies of campaign spending and corporate lobbying in Texas, with a budget of about $300,000 annually. Its work includes a 2003 report alleging DeLay's use of corporate funding to underwrite the 2002 Republican takeover of the Texas legislature. The IRS audit, lasting from January 2005 through February 2006 and involving review of "minutes, its files of correspondence, contracts, donor records and other documents," found no violations. Id.
This, then, is another example of the lack of transparency in the IRS audit process for tax-exempt organizations. (See the earlier discussion of a need for checks and balances in the context of complaints about churches' involvement in political campaigns, here.) Without knowing exactly what other organizations have been audited when requests were made by politicians, or what the outcome of those audits were, it is difficult to assess whether the audit was undertaken to satisfy partisan purposes. Greater transparency regarding the process of selecting organizations for audit and the way the IRS responds to partisan requests for audits would benefit everyone. The IRS would be above suspicion of using its power for partisan purposes, and citizens could rest assured that audit targets were selected using reasonable criteria.