Charging that an IRS audit was "motivated by partisan politics," NAACP Chairman Julian Bond announced yesterday that the civil rights group would not comply with the federal probe alleging Bond had inappropriately intervened in the presidential campaign by criticizing President Bush.
"We are prepared to fight," Bond said yesterday.
Attorneys for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sent a letter Friday to the Internal Revenue Service in response to a summons sent to the organization, dated Jan. 13.
The IRS requested documents for the investigation into the group's tax-exempt status.
In their letter, NAACP lawyers refused to deliver the documents, saying Bond did nothing wrong by criticizing the president in a speech last summer at the group's annual convention.
"His comments were consistent with the organization's long-standing practice of advocating positions in the interest of minorities in the United States," stated NAACP lawyers Lloyd H. Mayer and Marcus S. Owens in the letter.
Owens is the former head of the IRS office that oversees tax-exempt groups.
Loss of donations
Under the IRS investigation, the most severe penalty the NAACP could face is loss of its tax-exempt status, which allows contributors to make tax-deductible donations but restricts its lobbying activities.
Bond said such a loss could devastate the group's fund raising.
The letter also alleges that two unnamed members of Congress pushed for the audit, referring to a Nov. 16 letter from IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson to Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York.
Everson's letter says the agency received "two letters from Members of Congress ... requesting that we look at one or more organizations in this area."
NAACP lawyers say the IRS launched its probe just a month before the November presidential election to undermine the organization's get-out-the-vote effort.
"This project, of which the NAACP examination is apparently a part, was thus undertaken in direct response to the request of political figures who may very well have been concerned about voter registration and turnout by African-American voters," NAACP attorneys state in the letter.
The IRS says it sent letters to nonprofits during 2004, reminding them that tax-exempt groups are forbidden from participating in campaigns - a practice of the agency in every general election since 1992. The agency said it reviewed more than 100 charities, churches and other groups last year.
Notified of audit
The IRS notified the NAACP of the audit in a letter dated Oct. 8, three months after Bond's stinging criticism of Bush.
"We file our tax returns on a calendar year basis," said Angela Ciccolo, the NAACP's interim general counsel. "We thought it was extraordinary that just three months had passed. The IRS typically doesn't ask for that information and begin its examination until a return is filed."
During the July 11 speech at the NAACP's 95th annual convention in Philadelphia, Bond lambasted Bush's civil rights record and complained he was the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the group.
But Bond's 29-page speech also spoke of voting rights, black unemployment and the educational legacy of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that deemed segregated schools unconstitutional.
Both Bush and Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry were invited to speak at the convention, but only Kerry accepted.
The convention marked the height of tensions between the nation's oldest and largest civil rights group and the Bush administration.
Bush ended a four-year estrangement with NAACP leadership in December when he invited Kweisi Mfume, who weeks earlier had announced his resignation as NAACP president, to a meeting in the Oval Office.
Bond remained steadfast yesterday, saying he's prepared for a long battle with the IRS.
IRS can't comment
A spokesman at the IRS would not comment on the audit, saying the agency is prohibited by law from commenting on the tax returns of an individual or group.
If the NAACP continues to withhold requested information, the agency could take the issue to the Justice Department, which could ask a federal judge to enforce the summons.
Said Bond: "It's a war between right and wrong, and we're standing on the right side."