NAACP Refuses to be ‘Silenced’ by IRS

NNPA, Makebra M. Anderson Posted: Nov 01, 2004

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - The NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, says it will not be intimidated by an Internal Revenue Service investigation into whether the organization’s tax-exempt status should be revoked because Board Chairman Julian Bond repeatedly criticized the Bush administration last summer at the organization’s annual convention.

“The NAACP has always been non-partisan,” Bond says in an interview with the NNPA News Service. “That doesn’t mean we’re non-critical, nor does any law or regulation require that we must be. Only in an Orwellian world would honest disagreement be considered partisan or honest differences called election interference.”

(George Orwell is the pen name of British journalist and author Eric Arthur Bair, best known as author of “Animal Farm” and “1984.” The latter was so popular that “Orwellian” is now an adjective used to describe totalitarian thought control.)

The NAACP disclosed last week that it is the subject of an IRS inquiry. In a letter, dated Oct. 8, the IRS says Bond’s speech last summer in Philadelphia “condemned the administration policies of George W. Bush on education, the economy and the war in Iraq.”

It continues, “We are conducting an examination of your organization. At this time, the focus of our examination is limited to the issue of whether or not your organization has intervened in a political campaign…”

The NAACP could lose its tax-exempt status, which could cripple its fund-raising ability, or face a fine if the IRS determines that it has engaged in improper political activity. The civil rights group has been granted an extension to reply to the IRS’s request that it, among other things, provide a listing of all convention-related expenses and the “names and addresses of each board member and indicate how each voted.”

NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume says obtaining tax-exempt status from the IRS does not mean its officers or members must forfeit their First Amendment right to free speech.

“For over 95 years, Americans of all races and all political persuasions have been proud to fight for the ideals and the beliefs that we’ve held high,” Mfume says in an interview. “We are non-partisan, but we have never been non-critical. These beliefs are American beliefs and they will not go away or wither in the face of unfair efforts either by the IRS or anyone else.”

President Bush has a strained relationship with most major civil rights leaders and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Although he spoke before the NAACP’s annual convention when he was first campaigning for the White House, he has refused to address the gathering while in office. After rejecting the NNACP's invitation each year, Bush has spoken twice to the National Urban League's annual convention.

Bush met with the CBC when he first entered office, but has declined subsequent invitations to discuss issues important to African-Americans. And he has turned down repeated interview requests from the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, which serves more than 200 Black newspapers, and Black Entertainment Television.

Kerry, on the other hand, has granted two exclusive interviews to NNPA News Service Washington Correspondent Hazel Trice Edney, has sat down for an interview with Ed Gordon on BET and met with the Congressional Black Caucus as soon as he became his party’s presidential nominee. Kerry spoke this summer at both the NAACP and National Urban League conventions.

NAACP officials question the timing of the IRS letter, which was sent less than a month before Tuesday’s presidential election.

“It is regrettable that the IRS would seek to silence the voice of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization for having done nothing wrong,” Mfume says. “We take exception to the assault on the NAACP by the IRS and we question the suspicious timing of this action.”

Ron Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, says: “If they are concerned about the comments of Julian Bond, as far as I know, he hasn’t given up his freedom of speech. It seems that the president is using the IRS as a political tool and I’m shocked. This is an attempt to intimidate the NAACP at a time when the organization is involved in voter turnout. They (the NAACP) shouldn’t be intimidated, they should fight.”

The IRS says it is investigating more than 60 groups to see if they have violated the prohibition against becoming involved in partisan politics.

In an election-year advisory sent to charities and tax-exempt organizations on April 28, the IRS reminded them, ''Organizations described in section 501 (c )(3) of the Code that are exempt from federal income tax are prohibited from participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office. Charities, educational institutions and religious organizations, including churches, are among those that are tex-exempt under this code section.''

It continued, “These organizations cannot endorse any candidates, make donations to their campaigns, engage in fund raising, distribute statements, or become involved in any other activities that may be beneficial or detrimental to any particular candidate. Even activities that encourage people to vote for or against a particular candidate on the basis of nonpartisan criteria violate the political campaign prohibition of section 501(c ) (3).”

IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson says in a statement, “The IRS follows strict procedures involving the selection of tax-exempt organizations for audit and resolution of any complaints about such groups. Career civil servants, not political appointees, make these decisions in a fair, impartial manner. Any suggestion that the IRS has tilted its audit activities for political purposes is repugnant and groundless.”

However, prominent Democrats, including Sen. John Kerry, disagree.

Representatives Charles B. Rangel of New York, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Pete Stark of California sent a letter to Commissioner Everson demanding that he “publicly, specifically and immediately repudiate the recent actions of the IRS taken against the NAACP.”

The letter charged, “First, it is obvious that the timing of this IRS examination is nothing more than an effort to intimidate the members of the NAACP, and the communities the organization represents, in their get-out-the-vote effort nationwide.”

Meanwhile, Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, sent a letter to the Justice Department’s civil rights division asking it to investigate whether anyone from the White House, Bush’s re-election campaign or the Republican National Committee had anything to do with the IRS investigation.

Kerry wrote, “If the timing of this process leads some to believe politics is at play, it could have a chilling impact on African Americans’ participation in the American political process.”

Bond says the NAACP, which was founded in 1909, has a history of criticizing both Republican and Democratic presidents over the years.

“We have been dealing with presidents since Theodore Roosevelt,” he points out. “We have met first-hand with all the presidents through Clinton -- Republican and Democratic. When they do a good job, we give praise. When they don’t, we give criticism.”

Bond’s July 11 speech cited by the IRS was filled with criticism of Bush.

“The NAACP has always been non-partisan, but that doesn’t mean we’re non-critical,” Bond told convention delegates. “For as long as we’ve existed, whether Democrats or Republicans have occupied the White House, we’ve spoken truth to power.

“When his friends asked Harry Truman, ‘Mr. President, why do you give the other side so much hell?’ Truman said, ‘I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell!’ When any political party places politics over principle, we’re going to give them non-partisan hell!”

And Bond proceeded to do just that.

“…The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 marked the beginning of the dependence of the Republican Party on the politics of racial division to win elections and gain power,” he said. “By playing the race card in election after election, they’ve appealed to the dark underside of American culture, to the minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality. They preach racial neutrality and practice racial division.

“…They write a new Constitution for Iraq and ignore the Constitution here at home. They say giving health care to all Iraqis is sound policy; they say giving health care to all Americans is socialism. If a president lies about having an affair, they say, ‘Impeach him!’ If a president lies about going to war, they say, ‘Re-elect him!’”

Urging delgates to vote in this year's presidential election, Bond said: ''You cannot win this race by ignoring race. We know that if whites and non-whites vote in the same percentages as they did in 2000, Bush will be re-defeated by 3 million votes.''

Bond criticized Bush more than a dozen times by name, highlighting his opposition to affirmative action and appointment of insensitive judges to the federal bench.

He was also critical of Democrats in his Philadelphia speech.

“And what about the opposition party?” Bond asked, rhetorically. “Too often they’re not an opposition; they’re an amen corner. With some notable exceptions, they have been absent without leave from this battle for America’s soul. When one party is shameless, the other party cannot afford to be spineless.”

Walters, a political scientist, thinks the attack on the NAACP will harm Bush’s standing with African-Americans.

Walters says, “When the Republican Party takes out after the largest civil rights organization, it gives Black people a reason to vote against the president because none of this could have been done without him.”

Related Stories:

NAACP: Don't Purge Voters from the Rolls

Bush’s End Run around Black Leaders will Backfire

Kerry's NAACP Speech a Poor Measure of His Civil Rights Commitment

NAACP Head Says Bush Treats Blacks Like Prostitutes

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