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Report: Holder Coached Black Ministers on Avoiding IRS Scrutiny

Saturday, 14 Sep 2013 09:21 AM

By Cathy Burke

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Attorney General Eric Holder and IRS officials reportedly coached black ministers on how to engage in political activity without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status during the 2012 election.

Holder, then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman, and Peter Lorenzetti, a senior official in the IRS's exempt organizations division, participated in a May 2012 training session for ministers from the Conference of National Black Churches at the Capitol hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus.

Holder's speaking engagement at the event was "highly problematic," one legal expert said.

“[The CBC] had the IRS members there specifically to advise them on how far to go campaigning without violating their tax-exempt status,” George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told the Daily Caller.

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“I viewed the meeting as highly problematic. Eric Holder heads the agency that prosecutes organizations who give false information to the government. The Justice Department coordinates with the IRS on actions taken against not-for-profits.

"These ministries are given not-for-profit status on the basis that they are not engaging in any political activities. Here, the Obama administration was clearly encouraging them to maximize their efforts by showing them where the lines were drawn in federal case law."

The Daily Caller noted Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri who headed the Congressional Black Caucus at the time, was clear on the purpose of the session and who would attend.

“We’re going to, first of all, equip them with the information they need to know about what they can say and what they cannot say in the church that would violate their 501(c)(3) status with the IRS,” he said.

“In fact, we’re going to have the IRS administrator there. We’re going to have Attorney General Eric Holder there…the ACLU.”

The IRS has come under fire for targeting conservative and tea party groups during the 2012 election cycle with improper reviews of their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt applications.

“It is a fundamental precept that cabinet members should not engage in political activities," Turley told the Daily Caller. "The most important of those cabinet members would be the attorney general of the United States. To have the attorney general actively advising political allies of the president showed remarkably poor judgment on his part."

He added: “I believe this session undermined the integrity of the justice department, signaled to other Justice Department officials that the attorney general wants to support these black ministries as much as possible."

Cleaver defended the session.

“This event was open to all faiths, denominations, colors, creeds, and political affiliations,” he said in a statement.

“We were pleased to have leaders from our government provide information on compliance with the law and participation in our electoral system.”

The IRS and DOJ didn't comment to the Daily Caller.

The IRS scandal was back in the news this week when emails released by congressional investigators reportedly showed embattled former IRS manager Lois Lerner was involved in targeting conservative nonprofit groups for special scrutiny beginning at the height of the 2010 midterm election season.

Lerner, who is still on the IRS payroll despite losing her post as Director of Exempt Organizations, has refused to testify before Congress about her involvement. But the emails, which date from 2011 indicate that she knew early on what her agency was doing.

Lerner reportedly singled out applications for tax-exempt status from organizations that described themselves as right-wing "tea party" groups, and ordered that the politically sensitive requests should be held in limbo until the IRS could develop a coherent policy to address them.

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