Cruz Meeting With Hollywood Conservatives on IRS Scrutiny

Thursday, 20 Feb 2014 01:40 PM

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U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz plans to meet with Friends of Abe — the IRS-targeted group of elite Hollywood conservatives — to address the "McCarthyite" scrutiny it is under as it seeks tax-free charity status.

"FOA should respond to the IRS as it would to any McCarthyite request for information," Cruz, a Texas Republican, told The Hollywood Reporter, referring to the IRS's demand for its membership roster.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that Americans have freedom of association, and that groups should not be forced to reveal the names of members because that information could be abused for political gain."

Friends of Abe was founded by actor Gary Sinise in 2004 and consists of nearly 2,000 right-leaning Hollywood movers and shakers, including Pat Boone, Kelsey Grammer and Jon Voight.

Cruz, who will meet with Friends of Abe next month, told the Reporter the group was targeted as part of a government effort to intimidate those critical of President Barack Obama.

He also cited the arrests of Dinesh D'Souza, who made the documentary "2016: Obama's America," and was charged with violating campaign finance laws; and Nakoula Nakoula, whose "Innocence of Muslims" video was initially blamed for the Benghazi attack that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

"It's a remarkably selective prosecution considering Obama raised millions of dollars under similar circumstances, and donors merely faced civil fines, while D'Souza is charged with felony violation of federal law. There is a pattern of targeting filmmakers who speak out politically," Cruz told the Reporter.

"Authorities have been remarkably selective in prosecuting D'Souza; the IRS's treatment of FOA is consistent with what this administration has done to Tea Party and conservative groups.

"And with Benghazi, which we now know was a terrorist attack, the administration's first instinct was to blame a filmmaker. This administration locked him up. That should be very troubling to the filmmaking community."

Friends of Abe had attempted to keep itself shrouded in secrecy for fear of a backlash from powerful movie industry liberals.

A report in The New York Times revealed it is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service after applying for tax-exempt status.

According to the Times, the IRS requested information about its meetings with politicians, including 2012 vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, former Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, and 2012 presidential hopeful Herman Cain.

The Times also said the IRS has been probing Friends of Abe — named after Abraham Lincoln — for two years and has had access to its security-protected website containing all the members' names.

Since the organization was launched a decade ago, it has endeavored to keep a veil of silence surrounding its members, even banning cameras at events to avoid publication of pictures of its associates.

"It's a growing movement, and word is getting out that there's many of us in this business," singer Pat Boone told The Washington Times in 2008.

At the time, he was one of the few conservative stars who spoke openly about the group's existence.

"If certain studio execs — hirers and firers — learn that this is a movement and growing, and that some of these people that they hire are of this inclination, these people could be unemployed," Boone explained.

The IRS investigation comes as the agency has been under fire in Congress for targeting  the tea party movement and other conservative groups over their tax-exempt status.

Unlike those groups, Friends of Abe is hoping to win approval from the agency for a status allowing members to claim a tax deduction as long as they do not take part in any partisan political activity.

Jeremy Boreing, executive director of Friends of Abe, told the Times that his organization  "has absolutely no political agenda." He added, "It exists to create fellowship among like-minded individuals."

The organization — whose name is a take on Friends of Bill, which consists of people loyal to former President Bill Clinton — was launched through an email chain connecting conservatives in the film industry.

Although Sinise, best known for his role as Lt. Dan in "Forrest Gump," was the initial leader, he stepped back from his position as the organization grew stronger.

In conversations with the IRS, the group was specifically asked about meetings with Ryan, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Republican Los Angeles mayoral candidate Kevin James, who is unrelated to the "King of Queens" actor of the same name.

The agency is also said to have been particularly interested in Cain speaking at a Friends of Abe event in 2011.

Over the past few years, the group has staged events that have included such notable Republican guests as House Speaker John Boehner and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, as well as political strategists Karl Rove and Frank Luntz, and conservative commentators Ann Coulter and Mark Levin.

"The IRS would say that if you are inviting only conservative candidates, that's a problem," Marcus Owens, a former director of the agency's exempt organizations division, told The Times.

"But it's never really been litigated."

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