By Paul Brennan | Iowa Watchdog
DES MONES, Iowa — Four days after the head of the Internal Revenue Service denied the agency was targeting conservative social welfare organizations applying for tax exempt status, Rep. Bruce Braley signed a letter urging a probe into the political activities of social welfare organizations.
Braley was one of 30 Democratic members of Congress who signed the letter, dated March 26, 2012, to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman urging him to investigate whether “any groups qualifying as social welfare organizations under section 501(c)(4) of the federal tax code are improperly engaged in political campaign activity.”
The House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee published the letter, included in a group of documents released as part of the committee’s investigation into whether members of Congress tried to pressure the IRS into investigating certain conservative groups.
Braley’s office hasn’t responded to Iowa Watchdog’s questions about why he signed the letter.
Braley, the only Democratic candidate in this year’s U.S. Senate race in Iowa, has long complained about ads run by 501(c)(4) groups.
He claimed during his 2012 campaign that tax exempt groups were improperly running ads against him. He has made similar complaints this year.
On his Senate campaign website, Braley encourages people to write the IRS and ask it to change rules to allow for greater scrutiny of tax-exempt social welfare groups. He claims some of those groups are “just a backhanded way for groups to hide their billionaire, big corporate donors from the American public.”
During a March 22, 2012, hearing of the oversight subcommittee of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., told Shulman he received many reports of tea party organizations being forced to submit to an unnecessarily lengthy and intrusive review process when trying to qualify as social welfare organizations under section 501(c)4 of the tax code.
The 501(c)4 organizations may engage in political activities as long as the primary purpose of the group remains promoting social welfare.
Shulman acknowledged he was aware of such reports, but he assured Boustany, “There’s absolutely no targeting.”
Subsequent investigations proved that wasn’t true, and in May 2013 the IRS admitted it had targeted tea party and other conservative groups applying for 501(c)4 status.
In May 2013, Braley called the IRS targeting of conservative groups “shameful,” saying “there is no place for politics at the IRS.”
The day after issuing that statement, however, Braley told Radio Iowa he was concerned the scandal was making it harder for the IRS to investigate social welfare groups “to make sure that tax-exempt organizations are not engaging in inappropriate (political) activity.”
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