WASHINGTON — Catholic writer and professor Anne Hendershott wanted the public to know that Obamacare funds abortions.
So she wrote a series of articles critical of the Affordable Care Act in March of 2010.
In May of that year, the IRS called.
Hendershott finds herself among an emerging class of taxpayers who believe they were targets of special scrutiny and intimidation by the Internal Revenue Service for political reasons.
The federal government’s tax-collection agency apologized on May 10 for targeting groups with “tea party” and/or “patriot” in their names, but growing numbers of Catholics claim they were also singled out for pro-life activities.
The IRS didn’t tell Hendershott to stop writing, but they ordered her to report to an IRS office and began an audit.
She said the audit quickly became an interrogation, with IRS agent Michael Iannotti, based in New Haven, Conn., asking questions about her Obamacare articles.
“He was very argumentative. Not nice or respectful at all. I would say he was bullyish and curt,” said Hendershott, a sociology professor at The King’s College in New York, who was recently hired as a professor of psychology, sociology and social work at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.
Though Hendershott and her husband filed jointly, she said the IRS agent wanted to speak only with her. Hendershott claims she was told to show up at an IRS office at a specific date and time alone, without her husband or the CPA who had managed the couple’s taxes for decades.
Hendershott and her husband had never had an issue with the IRS and claim they have always erred on the side of caution in filing and paying taxes.
“Most of the articles in question I wrote for free, for a magazine that doesn’t have money to pay writers,” Hendershott said. “I don’t make more than $5,000 a year writing articles. Yet this audit consumed our lives for about six months. They were clearly trying to find that some wealthy donor, someone like the Koch brothers, was paying me to write Obamacare articles.”
If the IRS wanted her to stop scrutinizing Obamacare, the agency got its wish. At least for a while.
“I started writing milder articles about Obamacare, and I stopped criticizing Obama entirely,” Hendershott said. “I have a husband and children who have jobs and share my last name. When you think the IRS has the power to destroy your family, your livelihood and to take away your property, you don’t want to make them mad. You do what you think will make them go away. That’s what I did.”
Curbing Freedom of Speech
Sue Martinek told the Register she ran into similar problems with the IRS, which demanded that she and others involved with a pro-life organization pledge to never protest Planned Parenthood — the country’s largest abortion business.
Martinek, president of Coalition for Life of Iowa, petitioned the IRS for 501(c)(3) status in 2008. The organization has an annual budget of $1,000.
“We had everything in order, and one of their agents shared that our application was ready to go through,” Martinek explained. “But before that could happen, each member of the board would have to sign a letter stating we would not protest Planned Parenthood. Here we are, in the U.S.A., where we have the right to free speech and to pray, and the IRS was telling us we could not do these things on public property near Planned Parenthood.”
One member of the board balked at the request and contacted the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a public-interest law firm that defends religious liberty.
The case went to Thomas More Society special counsel Sally Wagenmaker, who was shocked at the request the IRS had made of her new clients.
“This was disturbing, content-based scrutiny,” Wagenmaker said. “We have freedom of speech. We have religious freedom, and we have the right to peaceable assembly, and they seemed determined to deprive this organization of all of those protections. It’s the type of activity that can have a chilling effect on our constitutional rights.”
Marie McCoy, executive director of Texas-based Christian Voices for Life, had a nearly identical experience when her organization applied for 501(c)(3) status in February 2011. The organization has an annual budget of $3,000.
The organization’s activities include sending a weekly email to 170 subscribers, organizing a life chain each fall and participating in 40 Days for Life activities each spring.
McCoy said IRS agent Tyrone Thomas, based in El Monte, Calif., demanded piles of paperwork from board members pertaining to leases, contracts and grant applications. He told McCoy early in the process that her organization would not qualify for tax-exempt status.
McCoy said Thomas demanded to know whether she planned to educate the public about both sides of abortion.
“That’s not the law,” said Thomas More Society’s Wagenmaker, who also intervened successfully on behalf of Christian Voices for Life. “The law allows a 501(c)(3) to engage in advocacy. You can teach that smoking kills without having to advocate the benefits of smoking. The same is true of abortion.”
Abuses of Power?
John Eastman, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) believes one or more IRS employees committed a felony in March 2012 by sharing his organization’s private tax documents with the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that lobbies for same-sex “marriage.” The Human Rights Campaign published the documents on its website, publicly revealing the names of donors to the National Organization for Marriage.
“The Human Rights Campaign was headed by Joseph Solmonese, who at the time had just been named national co-chair of the Obama election campaign,” Eastman told the Register.
Eastman, a professor of constitutional law at Southern California’s Chapman University, who has been involved in 75 cases brought to the Supreme Court, complained to the IRS. The IRS, in turn, said someone at the National Organization for Marriage must have leaked the documents.
But NOM’s technical staff found hidden date stamps on the published documents that indicate they came directly from the IRS.
With evidence of an IRS leak, Eastman’s organization demanded an investigation by the Department of Justice and the inspector general of the Department of Treasury.
Eastman will press ahead for a resolution of NOM’s complaints, and he has filed suit against the federal agency.
“It is bigger than the marriage issue or the tea party,” said Eastman.
“We’ve been in a 100-year fight in this country about the size and scope of government. Are we going to have a limited government, in which families and churches and private organizations form the basis of society, or an unlimited government that cares for us from cradle to grave?”
If the nation chooses the latter path, he asserted, “we will also have a government that controls us from cradle to grave.”
David Kopel, a Catholic and constitutional law professor at Denver University, concurs with Eastman.
“It’s a step in the direction of putting those things that are not Caesar’s under the control of Caesar,” said Kopel.
He suggested that scrutiny of pro-life organizations may indicate ideological differences combined with a desire by IRS employees to protect their own interests.
“The IRS is going to be running the revenue side of Obamacare. So we can set aside ideology and see that, from the IRS perspective, these pro-life groups are a threat because they want to stop Obamacare,” he said.
However, not all Americans are scandalized by the headlines marking the IRS campaign against these groups.
The Los Angeles Times ran an opinion piece subtitled: “Allowing so many ‘social welfare’ groups to enjoy tax-exempt status while participating in politics must stop. The IRS is obligated to scrutinize applicants, ‘tea party’ or no.”
Peter Goodman, executive business editor of The Huffington Post, also defended the agency’s decision to scrutinize groups.
“Good for the IRS,” Goodman wrote. “Like any institution, the agency has limited resources at its disposal. ... Cops concentrate patrols in high-crime areas.”
But the Catholic League's president, William Donohue, is pushing back.
Donohue detailed in a May 16 press release how his own organization fell afoul of the IRS within weeks of Obama’s election in 2008.
According to Donohue, the Catholic League received an IRS letter on Nov. 24, 2008, notifying the organization that it was now under investigation for activities that allegedly violated the tax code regarding political activities by nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations.
Said Donohue, “What the IRS did not know was that I had proof who contacted them to launch the investigation: Catholics United, a George Soros-funded Catholic organization.”
Donohue said the investigation resulted from a letter of complaint submitted to the IRS by Catholics United the previous June. According to Donohue, the information in the IRS letter “matches up extraordinarily well” with the Catholics United letter, whose contents became public after it was released to CNN in October 2008 by Catholics United's president, Chris Korzen.
Charged Donohue: “So the problem extends beyond the IRS. It extends to left-wing activists, funded by left-wing tycoons, all for the purpose of silencing conservatives. It’s time someone was held accountable for this obscene political game.”
Register correspondent Wayne Laugesen writes from Colorado.