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(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained email exchanges between former Internal Revenue Services (IRS) Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner and enforcement attorneys at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) indicating that the IRS provided detailed, confidential information concerning the tax exempt application status and returns of conservative groups to the FEC in violation of federal law.  Included with the email exchanges were IRS questionnaires to a conservative group that contained questions of a hostile nature.

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The emails were produced to Judicial Watch last week by the FEC in response to an August 9, 2013, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking access to the following for the timeframe January 1, 2009, to the present (the IRS received a FOIA request for the same information and has not yet responded):

  • Any and all records concerning, regarding, or related to the FEC’s coordination with the IRS regarding the political activities of 501(c) (4) non-profit organizations;
  • Any and all communications between the FEC and the IRS regarding the political activities of non-profit organizations.

The revealing email chain obtained by Judicial Watch begins with a February 3, 2009, email from a redacted FEC attorney asking Lerner if the IRS had issued an exemption letter for American Future Fund (AFF). The writer of the letter notes, “When we spoke last July, you told us that the American Future Fund had not received an exemption letter from the IRS.”  In the same email, the FEC attorney asked Lerner if she could also advise him if the IRS had granted an exemption letter to American Issues Project (AIP) as well as to AIP’s predecessor organizations, Citizens for the Republic (CFTR) and Avenger, Inc. (AIP).

In her response sent ten minutes later from her irs.gov email address, Lerner indicated that she would require her staff to cooperate fully, saying, “I have sent your email out to some of my staff. Will get back to you as soon as I have heard from them.”

The bulk of the records obtained by Judicial Watch consist of extensive materials from the IRS’ files sent from Lerner to the FEC containing detailed, confidential information about the organizations. These include annual tax returns (Forms 990) and request for exempt recognition forms (Form 1024), Articles of Organization and other corporate documents, and correspondence between the nonprofit organizations and the IRS. Under Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, it is a felony for an IRS official to disclose either “return information” or “taxpayer return information,” even to another government agency.

Initial news reports, when word of some of these IRS-FEC emails first surfaced in August 2013, raised a variety of legal issues. One was the fact that Lerner was supplying confidential information concerning the tax exempt application status of conservative organizations.  Another was the fact that the inquiries regarding AFF made by the FEC attorneys in February 2009 to Lerner occurred before the FEC commissioners had voted on whether to investigate AFF (the FEC later voted not to investigate AFF).  A third was the appearance of collusion between government agencies with an apparently anti-conservative bias. The new in-depth emails obtained by Judicial Watch seem to confirm that the possible collusion between the IRS and the FEC may have been far more extensive than first indicated, particularly in view of allegations that, prior to joining the IRS, Lerner’s tenure as head of the Enforcement Office at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) also was marked by what appeared to be politically motivated harassment of conservative groups.

“These extensive emails and other materials provide a disturbing window into the activities of two out-of-control federal agencies:  the IRS and FEC,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And there is the very real question as to whether these documents evidence a crime.”

ACORN Documents from the Federal Election Commission

The following documents were obtained from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) website and are in the public domain. The cases outlined below are examples of FEC’s apparent inability to thoroughly examine complaints. In each of these three complaints filed against ACORN, a number of charges were brought. In every case, the FEC relied on statements from the accused party(ies) as enough grounds to dismiss the allegations.

Matter Under Review 5820, Florida

In September 2006, a complaint was filed accusing ACORN of engaging in “A Coordinated Campaign With The Express Purpose of Defeating Republican Candidates for Federal Office and Supporting Democrat Candidates For Federal Office.” Specifically, ACORN’s Florida branch was accused of preparing campaign plans that stated objectives including “defeat George W. Bush and other Republicans by increasing Democrat turnout” and “increase voter turnout of working class, mainly Democrat voters without increasing opposition turnout.” Since ACORN and Project Vote are not registered as political action committees (which is required for political organizations that make more than $1000 per year), they are not legally allowed to participate in campaign activities. In addition, ACORN and Project Vote failed to file expenditure reports and Statements of Organization with the FEC.

The case was never fully investigated by the FEC, as ACORN stated that the campaign plan designed to defeat Republicans was a “draft” and that the questionable material had been removed. The FEC did not examine the matter of failing to file expenditure reports or Statements of Organization, and the case was dropped in November 2006.

Related Documents

Matter Under Review 5843, Missouri

The Missouri Republican Senate Committee filed a complaint with the FEC in October 2006. Like the case in Florida, ACORN and one of its affiliates, Give Missourians a Raise, Inc., were accused of failing to file their expenditure reports with the FEC. Again, ACORN was also accused of failing to register as a political committee.

Give Missourians a Raise, Inc. was accused because its workers were directed to “solicit votes for Democorat candidate for the U.S. Senate, Claire McCaskill.” This was well documented by a group of workers from Give Missourans a Raise who protested the involvement with elections. One employee, Josephine Perkins, suggested that “this was a willful and knowing violation of the Act by Acorn.” Perkins stated in the video that, “If you go out and you are working for Give Missourians a Raise you cannot have Claire McCaskill’s campaign in the same spot…The funds allocated for the minimum wage is for the minimum wage, not to campaign for Claire McCaskill.”

The FEC dropped the case almost immediately without investigating it after ACORN denied the accusations. Since the youtube video quoted in the complaint was primarily addressing employees not getting paid, the FEC chose to ignore the statements concerning unfair campaign practices. When Give Missourians a Raise was asked about the complaint they “go so far as to assert that the complaint is ‘as thin as homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.’” Their quote, originally from Abraham Lincoln, apparently was enough for the FEC to dismiss the matter.

Related Documents

Matter Under Reivew 5859, Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, Congressman Jim Gerlach submitted a complaint in October 2006. He accused ACORN of “illegally coordinating activities” with Lois Murphy, a candidate for congress. Under 11 CFR 114.4(c)(6), corporations such as ACORN are not allowed to endorse candidates. Gerlach states, “The regulations were clearly intended to prevent these organizations from illegally coordinating with a federal campaign as a way of evading the very strict limits of both the Federal Election Campaign Act and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.” As proof, Gerlach cited a press release from ACORN: “The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) endorsed Lois Murphy for Congress. Lois will join members of ACORN to canvass in Pottstown following the endorsement today. Lois and ACORN will be reaching out to members of the community to talk about minimum wage, education, and health care.”

The FEC dismissed the accusation, again by using statements submitted by ACORN saying they had done nothing wrong. Apparently, “the Murphy Campaign incorrectly identified ACORN in its press release as the entity that endorsed Candidate Murphy, when it was actually a related state political committee…Pennsylvania ACORN…that made the endorsement.” The FEC does not address the ACORN press release stating they had endorsed Murphy, or specify whether they examined the press release to see whether ACORN or Pennsylvania ACORN issued the release.

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