The focus on the political consequences of the Internal Revenue Service scandal has overshadowed a troubling reality that a federal agency targeted specific groups of people for discriminatory treatment. In singling out conservative groups, the IRS reminded us that the McCarthy-era Red Scare is not the distant memory many would like to believe. However, the media’s uniform condemnation of this conduct demonstrates how the world has changed since then. People do not quietly allow government abuses to occur. This political backlash may be responsible in part for the U.S. Department of Justice’s criminal investigation into the IRS’s actions. Civil lawsuits are being filed by affected groups. The critical question is what legal remedies are available to organizations singled out by the government for discriminatory treatment.
Organizations seeking exemption from federal taxes must apply to the IRS for that classification. The IRS, in particular the Office of Rulings and Agreements, of the Exempt Organizations function, evaluates these applications. The majority of applications (70 percent in 2012) are approved without additional requests for information from the applicant. If the IRS needs substantially more information, the application is assigned to the Determinations Unit. A specialist in that unit sends the applicant a request for information, and after the information is received, the specialist issues a final determination letter approving or denying the tax-exemption application.
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