The NAACP has sent a letter to the IRS telling the federal agency that it was refusing to cooperate with the investigation of its tax-exempt status. The privileged tax status of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization may be in jeopardy if the NAACP engaged in prohibited partisan political activity during last year’s presidential election. At issue are the remarks made by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond on July 11, 2004, at the NAACP’s annual convention.
NAACP Interim President and CEO Dennis Hayes has charged that the IRS investigation, which was officially launched on Oct. 8, apparently in response to complaints filed by two congressmen, was “clearly motivated by partisan politics.” An NAACP statement declared that the organization “has rejected the IRS’s premise that Bond’s speech constituted prohibited campaign intervention.”
Mr. Bond left little doubt which presidential candidate the NAACP supported and what must be done as a result. “If you don’t vote because you fear your vote won’t count, you’re absolutely right. If you don’t vote, you won’t count!” By failing to vote, he told the NAACP audience, “you’ll be letting the bad guys win. Our response must be determination—to flood the polls and cast our votes in such large numbers that there will be no doubt.” For emphasis, he charged that the Bush 2000 campaign perpetrated “the outright theft of black votes.”
Now, if these comments do not cross the line into blatantly partisan politics, then no comments could conceivably cross that line. In the face of the NAACP’s strident refusal to cooperate with the investigation, the IRS has two options. It can drop the matter entirely, in which case it would be sending the worst possible signal. Or it can exercise its right to ask the Justice Department to seek a federal court order enforcing the IRS summons. The choice is clear.