My IRS Complaint Concerning the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Inc.

Last night I filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service concerning the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Inc. (I will refer to this corporation as the “IRD” throughout this post. “IRS” is a well-known abbreviation within the United States.) This complaint concerns the inadequacy of the IRD’s recently submitted 2012 Form 990.

By necessity the details get technical rather quickly. However, the basic problem is this:

  • “Under penalties of perjury”, the IRD’s President, Mark Tooley, has already admitted that in 2012 the IRD distributed $158,798 in cash to ten individuals. Under Form 990 the IRS calls distributing cash in this way a “cash grant.”
  • The IRS requires the following description: “In general terms, describe how the organization monitors its grants to ensure that such grants are used for proper purposes and are not otherwise diverted from the intended use.” Whether by intention or mere negligence, the IRD did not provide this mandatory narrative.
  • If the IRD had included any narrative, I would have had no solid basis to file a complaint.

This is a minimal requirement for corporations that receive the benefit of tax-exempt status. Anyone honestly defending the IRD in this situation has to address the basic problem rather than rant and rave about the IRS. Such ranting and raving might sound like this: “Not only do true Christians not have to travel the second mile, but the godless IRS has no business asking true Christians to travel the first mile!” A Christian message indeed.

There is also my suspicion that the “cash grants” were distributed at the 2012 General Conference. This isn’t strictly an IRS problem; it would be nice if the Council of Bishops also did some sort of investigation.

I obtained a copy of the IRD’s 2012 Form 990 from Guidestar (free registration required). (Here is a link to the “About Us” page for Guidestar.)

Since inserting pictures might help my blog posts, here are two pictures from the Form in question (click to enlarge either):

Header of 2012 Form 990 (see prominent notice on right)

Header of 2012 Form 990 (see prominent notice on right)

Header of 2012 Form 990 Schedule I (see prominent notice on right)

Header of 2012 Form 990 Schedule I (see prominent notice on right)

No one can reasonably claim that these submitted forms were private.

The “supplemental documentation” with my complaint is available as a PDF at the end of this post.

Why did I file a complaint?

I believe the submitted 2012 Form 990 is incomplete and hence in violation. If the extent of the violation is neglecting to enter a response in Schedule I Part IV, all that will probably happen is the IRS sends the IRD a letter saying they have x number of days to file an amended return. This doesn’t seem to be that much of a moral outrage.

And quite honestly, the IRD does not seem to be in the habit of laboring, “in honour, each to prefer the other before himself.” (See the 1808 Discipline, Answer 7 to Question: “What can be done in order to a closer union with each other?” Page 40.)

Unlike extremists on the right, I don’t make vague allegations of serious wrongdoing. I’d rather report well-grounded allegations rather than risk being accused of defamation or extortion.

I’m also not convinced that neglecting to enter a response in Schedule I Part IV is the extent of the problem here.

What other problems are there?

I could lean on New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and bluntly say what I think. I’m reluctant to do so.

I’ll simply say that there is something suspicious about distributing $158,798 under “SUPPORT FOR CONVENTION ATTENDEES.” The convention in question has to be the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Hypothetically: wouldn’t giving gifts to influence church legislation be a crime?

In a word, no.

In the United States, the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution likely leaves this up to the churches themselves. The United Methodist Church apparently hasn’t gotten around to actually prohibiting this conduct. I can’t find any such prohibition in the Discipline, and I can’t find any such prohibition in the “Plan of Organization and Rules of Order for the 2012 General Conference.” The Plan of Organization does contain a Committee on Ethics (VII.B), yet this Committee investigates violations of the existing rules. That doesn’t help much.

Suppose the 2016 General Conference actually gets around to creating such a rule. Could the 2016 General Conference enforce this rule by expelling a member? I haven’t the faintest idea. The authority probably exists under parliamentary law. Still, ¶¶ 13.2, 20 and 33 can’t be casually brushed aside.

But everyone knows that giving gifts to influence someone’s professional behavior is wrong!

I’m not so sure about that.

The Citigroup Code of Conduct (codeconduct_en [PDF]) that was in effect January 5, 2010 contained this remarkable paragraph on page 14 under the heading “The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Anti-Bribery Laws”:

Improper payments for the benefit of a government official even if made indirectly through a consultant, contractor or other intermediary are prohibited. In addition to payments and gifts, offering employment opportunities to a government official or a family member of an official may also violate anti-bribery laws. “Facilitating payments” are small payments to low-level government officials to expedite or secure performance of a nondiscretionary, routine governmental action. There are rules regarding facilitating payments, and many countries prohibit such payments. Facilitating payments may not be made without specific prior approval of the business’ legal or compliance officer and then only when such payments do not violate local law and are properly reported.

(In fairness to Citigroup, its current Code of Conduct prohibits making “a facilitation payment of any kind, regardless of the provisions of applicable law.”)

For another perspective, here’s a brief passage from James Verini’s article “Northern Nigeria Conflict,” which appeared in the November 2013 National Geographic:

En route to Kano, I flew through the Lagos airport, where the guard at the bag scanner shook me down for a bribe in front of his expressionless superiors. I refused. He negotiated: “Money for water?” I told him that if he really was thirsty, he could meet me in the snack bar. A half hour later he arrived, uniform gone, now in natty denim, two mobile phones in hand, and leaped into a chair with a “Here you are!” We talked for an hour. I ended up buying him water and lunch. He in turn called a friend who picked me up at the Abuja airport. “Anything you need,” the guard said as we parted, and he meant it.

When dealing with such issues as money, social context matters. Another example: someone living in the Washington DC area who makes $103,000 a year might feel (by comparison with others) that he lives a life of abject poverty.

Rather than speculate on whether “giving gifts to General Conference delegates” is wrong, I’d rather just emphasize:

  • The IRD has reporting requirements it has to meet. These are not subject to debate.
  • It would be nice if the Council of Bishops would ask the IRD about its “SUPPORT FOR CONVENTION ATTENDEES.” If the IRD has nothing to hide — and why would it? — I’m sure it would welcome such questions.

i990–2012  (PDF: Form 990 (2012) Instructions)

52-1265221 (PDF: Supplemental Documentation with my complaint)

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One thought on “My IRS Complaint Concerning the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Inc.

  1. Pingback: A couple of thoughts concerning Docket Item 0414-5 | Attending Circuses

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