Reminiscent of the Obama Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) witch hunt of conservative groups, a U.S. Senator who sits on the committee that oversees the tax agency is pushing it to revoke a student charity’s nonprofit status. The veteran lawmaker, Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, says the conservative student organization, Turning Point USA, should lose its nonprofit rating because it held large events that could help spread COVID-19. In a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig the senator describes the gatherings as “superspreader” events. He specifically mentions a Palm Beach, Florida winter gala at the Mar-a-Lago Club famously owned by former President Donald Trump.
“According to press reports and social media posts, many participants gathered and mingled indoors without wearing masks, in violation of Palm Beach County’s COVID-19 regulations,” Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, writes to the IRS chief. The powerful chamber has oversight over the IRS, among many other government agencies. “In holding these ‘superspreader’ events, Turning Point USA knowingly exposed hundreds of young people and staff working at the events to serious risk of infection,” the letter continues. The legislator asks the IRS to review whether the group, which has more than 250,000 student members, should continue to enjoy its tax-exempt nonprofit status. “Established law has long held that an organization is not eligible for tax exemption under section 501(c)(3) if a purpose of the organization is contrary to public policy or is illegal,” the letter states, reminding the IRS commissioner of a three-part test established to determine whether an organization’s activities are consistent with tax exemption under the code.
The analysis includes determining whether the purpose of the organization is charitable, if activities are not illegal and whether the activities are in furtherance to the group’s exempt purpose and are reasonably related to that purpose. “Turning Point USA’s reckless decision to host potential ‘superspreader’ events, in open violation of local COVID-19 regulations, put children and others at risk, and was clearly contrary to the public good,” the senator tells the IRS commissioner. “Tax-exempt status provides a substantial benefit to charitable organizations and reflects the federal government’s endorsement of an organization’s activities. Organizations that knowingly put in danger minors entrusted to their care should not enjoy the benefits of tax-exempt status. Accordingly, I urge the IRS to review whether it should revoke Turning Point USA’s tax-exempt status.”
Founded in 2012, Turning Point USA describes itself as a national student movement dedicated to identifying, organizing, and empowering young people to promote the principles of free markets and limited government. The group’s founder, 27-year-old Charlie Kirk, was the chairman of Students for Trump, which aimed to activate a million new college voters before the 2020 presidential election. In a press release announcing the letter to the IRS, Whitehouse refers to the group as a “right-wing nonprofit” that “promotes far-right ideas to young people around the country.” The document, posted on the senator’s official website, further states that Turning Point USA “has cultivated close ties to President Trump and the Trump family.”
The senator’s push to repeal the conservative charity’s nonprofit status brings back memories of the Obama IRS singling out groups with conservative-sounding terms such as “patriot” and “Tea Party” in their titles when applying for tax-exempt benefits. Judicial Watch launched an investigation and sued for records after an explosive Treasury Inspector General report revealed that in 2010 the IRS began using inappropriate criteria, such as lists of past and future donors, to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status. The illegal IRS reviews continued for more than 18 months, according to the report, and “delayed processing of targeted groups’ applications” preparing for the 2012 presidential election. The IRS director at the center of the scheme, Lois Lerner, not only broke agency rules—as well as the law—to target conservative organizations she also lied to Congress to cover up the wrongdoing.