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An Open Letter on Politically-Motivated IRS Audits

Climate

Phil Radford

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Dear Senator Carl Levin, Senator John McCain, Congressman Elijah Cummings and Congressman Darrell Issa:

Greenpeace has been watching with great interest the unfolding controversy over whether the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) singled out Tea Party groups for special scrutiny. We're pleased to see Attorney General Holder takes this issue seriously enough to open an investigation and believe such an investigation need not be limited to these narrow circumstances. In the past dozen years, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were subject to politically-motivated tax investigations by the IRS and Congress. Greenpeace is offering to testify about being the target of politically motivated audits in 2004, because regardless of which party holds power, these abuses are egregious and must stop.

Greenpeace opposes the use of federal power, in whatever form, to skew the forum of public debate. Greenpeace is devoted to the notion of government of, for and by the people. While we have serious philosophical differences with any number of groups, corporations and organizations on the political spectrum, the place to resolve those differences is in legislatures, courts, executive branch agencies and the public square. Let's all bring ideas and plans for what will lead to a better society and debate them freely and openly without fear of intimidation.

Greenpeace has both 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 entities and we take extreme care to make sure we stay within those boundaries. Greenpeace neither supports nor opposes any candidate, but seeks to improve the environmental policies of all politicians, regardless of affiliation. It's important that all participants in public discussions play by the same set of rules; where the IRS has evidence rules are broken, it should use its authority appropriately. IRS investigations, like any investigations, however, should begin with evidence, not conclusions.

There's compelling (if inconclusive) evidence that the IRS was sent after our organization by our political enemies. In 2003, a group called Public Interest Watch publicly called on the IRS to investigate the finances of Greenpeace USA, implying improprieties. In 2005, we were audited. The day the IRS auditor arrived in our offices, he pointed at a photo of an activist chained to an Exxon gas pump and said, "You guys are engaged in illegal activity and this stuff has got to stop." Chilling words indeed, and ones we took seriously.

We passed that audit with good grades. A recent follow-up IRS audit was recently completed and again, Greenpeace received excellent marks from the IRS. Does this prove Public Interest Watch—at the time, a group obscure to us—goaded the IRS into auditing Greenpeace's books? We might not have thought more about it, but in 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported Public Interest Watch wasn't as obscure a group as we'd thought. Instead, Public Interest Watch received $120,000 of its $124,000 budget from ExxonMobil, the multinational entity Greenpeace has clashed with for years over its drilling, spilling and denial of climate change.

For the record, the IRS has never commented—and until now has had a policy of not commenting—on reasons it selects groups for auditing. If a small group of people angry at Greenpeace calls for an IRS audit, it's one thing; if the richest corporation on Earth, with massive lobbying and influence with all branches of the federal government are behind that small group, it's another.

In 2004, then chair of the House Ways and Means Committee Rep. Thomas (R-CA) subpoenaed 10 years of records from RAN. In a letter to then-RAN Director Michael Brune, Rep. Thomas wrote:

The subcommittee has received reports of tax-preferred organizations that may be operating beyond the scope of their charitable status.

As was the case with Greenpeace, hard scrutiny by the government revealed RAN was acting with propriety.

The same year, the IRS threatened the NAACP with tax penalties, based on statements made at its national convention. In that case, as in the current case, subordinate staffers in a branch office were blamed.

In September 2010, the Department of Justice's Inspector General released a report which found the Federal Bureau of Investigation had improperly extended investigations against a number of public interest and civil rights groups, including Greenpeace. These improper investigations were ongoing at the same time ExxonMobil—via its front group—was calling on the IRS to investigate Greenpeace's tax status.

Given that exhaustive history, we feel well-qualified to weigh in opposing politically motivated investigations of any group.

We applaud the Justice Department's investigation into what the IRS did—or failed to do—in this case, but we urge you to take a closer look at the historical pattern of behavior as well. This investigation provides an opportunity to look at what the government—in all its capacity—has done to suppress voices, not just of the Tea Party, but of any group on any side of an issue. Let's work together to get our government on the track where it belongs—and then let's return to our great debate.

 

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Protesters gathered outside US Bank and Wells Fargo locations around the U.S. to protest investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline on Dec. 1, 2016. This photo is from a protest outside US Bank in south Minneapolis, Minnesota. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Jake Johnson

As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.


Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.

"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."


The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."

"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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