No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, this should be troubling to you. Right now it’s right wing groups, but what’s to keep it from being left-wing? Or Moderate, or writers, or anyone? This type of conspiracy is not what the US government was created to do.
Embattled Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner and an attorney in the Federal Election Commission’s general counsel’s office appear to have twice colluded to influence the record before the FEC’s vote in the case of a conservative non-profit organization, according to e-mails unearthed by the House Ways and Means Committee and obtained exclusively by National Review Online. The correspondence suggests the discrimination of conservative groups extended beyond the IRS and into the FEC, where an attorney from the agency’s enforcement division in at least one case sought and received tax information about the status of a conservative group, the American Future Fund, before recommending that the commission prosecute it for violations of campaign-finance law. Lerner, the former head of the IRS’s exempt-organizations division, worked at the FEC from 1986 to 1995, and was known for aggressive investigation of conservative groups during her tenure there, too.
“Several months ago . . . I spoke with you about the American Future Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization that had submitted an exemption application the IRS [sic],” the FEC attorney wrote Lerner in February 2009. The FEC, which polices violations of campaign-finance laws, is not exempted under Rule 6103, which prohibits the IRS from sharing confidential taxpayer information, but the e-mail indicates Lerner may have provided that information nonetheless: “When we spoke last July, you had told us that the American Future Fund had not received an exemption letter from the IRS,” the FEC attorney wrote.
The timing of the correspondence between Lerner and the FEC suggests the FEC attorney sought information from the IRS in order to influence an upcoming vote by the six FEC commissioners. The FEC received a complaint in March 2008 from the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party alleging that the American Future Fund had violated campaign-finance law by engaging in political advocacy without registering as a political-action committee. The American Future Fund responded to that complaint in June 2008, telling the commission that it had applied for tax exemption in March of that year and was a “501(c)(4) social-welfare organization that was organized to provide Americans with a conservative and free-market viewpoint and mechanism to communicate and advocate on the issues that most interest and concern them.” According to the e-mail correspondence, a month after receiving the American Future Fund’s response, the FEC general counsel’s office — which is prohibited under law from conducting an investigation into an organization before the FEC’s six commissioners have voted to do so — contacted Lerner to investigate the agency’s tax-exempt status.
The FEC general counsel’s office, in its recommendation on the case, apparently didn’t tell the agency’s commissioners about how it had obtained the information about the group’s tax-exempt status. Recommending that the commissioners prosecute the American Future Fund, the general counsel’s office wrote, “According to its response, AFF submitted an application for tax-exempt status to the Internal Revenue Service . . . on March 18, 2008.” The footnote to that sentence reads, “The IRS has not yet issued a determination letter regarding AFF’s application for exempt status. Based on the information from the response and the IRS website, it is likely that the application is still under review.” In fact, an FEC lawyer knew that the organization had yet to obtain tax-exempt status because Lerner provided the confidential information.
The general counsel’s report was issued in September 2008, but it was over five months before the six FEC commissioners voted, in late-February 2009, on whether to prosecute the American Future Fund for violations of campaign-finance laws. (The typical lag time between the submission of a general counsel’s recommendation and a commission vote is about a month, according to a source familiar with the workings of the commission.) As the vote approached, on February 3, 2009, the FEC lawyer went back to Lerner for an update on the status of the American Future Fund’s application. “Could you please tell me whether the IRS has since issued an exemption letter to the American Future Fund? Also if the IRS has granted American Future Fund’s exemption, would it be possible for you to send me the publicly available information and documents related to American Future Fund?”
Despite the recommendations of the general counsel’s office, the six FEC commissioners split on whether to pursue the American Future Fund’s case andvoted six-to-zero to close the case.
House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp and oversight-subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany are calling on the IRS, in the wake of these revelations, to provide all communications between the agency and the FEC between 2008 and 2012. “The American public is entitled to know whether the IRS is inappropriately sharing their confidential tax information with other agencies,” Camp and Boustany write in a letter they will send to acting IRS administrator Danny Werfel on Wednesday.
The FEC enforcement attorney also inquired about the tax-exempt status of another conservative organization, the American Issues Project. “I was also wondering if you could tell me whether the IRS had issued an exemption letter to a group called the American Issues Project? The group also appears to be the successor of two other organizations, Citizens for the Republic and Avenger, Inc.” Also sought were “any information and documents that would be publicly available in relation to the American Issues Project, Citizens for the Republic, or Avenger, Inc.”
Lerner was placed on paid administrative leave in late May after she revealed the IRS had inappropriately targeted conservative groups. The IRS has yet to respond to requests from lawmakers about her current employment status with the agency.
Now this is taking things just a bit too far-and that’s putting it mildly. Whether you are supportive of the lifestyle or despise it, being put in jail over it is a step that is way over the line. Every time I think I’ve seen it all, there’s something else to surprise me.
In Russia it is now illegal to even speak about homosexuality around minors, much less openly display gay pride. Technically the ban is against “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” around minors, but the implication for openly gay individuals is clear. Public displays of affection by gays, including holding hands or displaying symbols like a rainbow flag, are now banned. Violators face steep fines and jail time; foreigners face similar penalties plus deportation.
So what will happen to openly gay athletes and fans, as well as any vocal supporters or protestors, when Russia hosts the Winter Olympics next year in Sochi?
This week, comments by a lawmaker from St. Petersburg set off a firestorm online when he said that fans and athletes would not be immune from prosecution during the games.
Vitaly Milonov, who sponsored legislation in St. Petersburg last year that became the basis for a national law signed by President Vladimir Putin in June, was quoted telling the Interfax news agency that the law will remain in place during the Olympics and will be applied to foreigners.
“If a law has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by the president, then the government has no right to suspend it. It doesn’t have the authority,” he reportedly said, stressing that he has not heard anything different from Russian officials.
It is worth noting, however, that Milonov is only a regional lawmaker and is not a member of the federal government or the national legislature. But he has been on the forefront of Russia’s war against homosexuality. Last summer hethreatened to fine pop star Madonna for violating the law after she spoke out against it from the stage during a concert in St. Petersburg.
The International Olympic Committee appears only cautiously optimistic that the games will be safe for gay athletes and fans, noting that it has sought assurances from Russian authorities.
“This legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi,” the IOC said in an emailed statement to ABC News.
“The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games,” the statement continued.
The IOC said it continues to urge that the games “take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media.”
The U.S. Olympic committee recently sent a letter to American athletes warning them about the law, but stressing, “We do not know how and to what extent they will be enforced during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
The USOC says they are doing what they can to ensure the safety of all Americans at the Games.
“We are aware of these laws and are engaged in active discussions with the International Olympic Committee and the US State Department about how we can ensure that every American in Sochi, especially our athletes, are safe and secure,” the letter continues.
Anti-gay sentiment runs high in Russia, where homosexuality was illegal during the Soviet Union and only decriminalized in 1993. A law that sent homosexuals to psychiatric wards wasn’t annulled until 1999. Petitions for gay pride parades in Moscow have been rejected and unsanctioned rallies are often met by egg-throwing Russian Orthodox believers as well as physical violence. Police are often seen ignoring the attacks, and they often detain the gay rights activists.
In recent months, a new trend of attacks has gained popularity on Russian social media. Groups lure gay men online into meeting them in person, then humiliate and attack them on camera. They post the images and videos online under a hashtag that translates as “Occupy Pedophilia.”
The U.S. has not yet issued any specific warning to gay Americans traveling to Russia. The State Department’s informational page about Russia, however, notes the law and the dangers faced by those who are openly gay in Russia.
“Discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread in Russia. Harassment, threats, and acts of violence targeting LGBT individuals have occurred,” the page notes. “Public actions (including dissemination of information, statements, displays, or perceived conspicuous behavior) contradicting or appearing to contradict such laws may lead to arrest, prosecution, and the imposition of a fine.”
The concern about discrimination against foreigners attending the Olympics comes amid a renewed effort abroad to pressure Russia about the new anti-gay law, including calls for boycott of the games as well as of Russian products.
Influential gay activist Dan Savage last week called onsupporters to stop buying Stolichnaya and Russian Standard, two major Russian vodka labels, and to urge bars and restaurants to do the same, coining the hashtag #DumpStoli.
Leading Russian gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev, however, said he did not think the vodka ban will be effective since Stolichnaya consumed overseas is both bottled and based outside Russia.
“To be honest, I don’t see the point in boycotting the Russian vodka,” he said, according to Gay Star News.
“It will impact anyone except the companies involved a little bit. The effect will die out very fast, it will not last forever,” Alexeyev said.
Stolichnaya is produced by a Russian company for domestic consumption and by Luxembourg-based SPI Group for sale in more than 100 countries abroad. The overseas product is made from Russian ingredients, but bottled in Latvia.
In response, the company’s website has highlighted its longstanding support for gay rights, including a banner image on its Facebook pagestating “Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong & proud with the global LGBT community against the attitude & actions of the Russian government.”
Calls for a full boycott of the games have been few thus far, but some activists, including the group Human Rights Campaign, are urging NBC, which will air the games in the United States, to include stories about the anti-gay law in its coverage.
Mark Lazarus, the head of NBC Sports, has promised that if the law impacts any part of the Winter Games, “we will make sure we are acknowledging it and recognizing it,” according to the Guardian.