Philanthropy

Tax-Law Professors Recommend GAO Investigation of Charities’ Involvement in Politics


In a new paper about the treatment of churches as organizations exempt from taxation under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, co-authors Ellen P. Aprill and Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer recommend renewed government “investigations of violations of the [section’s] campaign intervention prohibition, investigations including but not limited to churches.”

Aprill is a professor at the Loyola Law School and Mayer is a professor at the Notre Dame Law School.

They propose a study “that systematically considers potential violations by all section 501(c)(3) organizations,” as they describe it in “21st Century Churches and Federal Tax Law.” They further urge that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) not be the agency to conduct it, given the controversy surrounding the agency’s believed targeting of conservative groups for denial of applications for tax-exempt status about a decade ago.

Aprill and Mayer suggest the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) handle the project. “We have no doubt that the GAO has the authority to do so, upon request of a congressional committee or subcommittee or simply on the initiative of the Comptroller General,” they write. “Moreover, the GAO has authority to obtain access to a wide range of agency records and information ….” (All footnotes omitted.)

“Such an examination by a respected Congressional agency could reassure both critics and defenders of the IRS generally and the Exempt Organizations division in particular,” according to Aprill and Mayer.

“That said, GAO would lack the ability to impose any penalties on organizations found to have violated the prohibition,” they continue, but “GAO monitors agencies’ progress in implementing its recommendations, and it could refer particularly egregious cases to the IRS for follow-up.”

 

This article originally appeared in the Giving Review on February 14, 2023.

Michael E. Hartmann

Michael E. Hartmann is CRC’s senior fellow and director of the Center for Strategic Giving, providing analysis of and commentary about philanthropy and giving. He…
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