IRS: No Documents on Gingrich Review

Posted November 7, 2003 at 6:24pm

The Internal Revenue Service, after shutting down an extraordinary appeals process that benefited two groups tied to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), has rebuffed an attempt by the former top Democrat on the House ethics committee to review its files on the case.

IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, in a letter last week to Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), refused to provide any of the documents used by an obscure office that recommended an unusual about-face with the restoration of tax-exempt status for two groups implicated in the 1997 ethics investigation of Gingrich.

After the ethics panel, known formally as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, found extensive evidence showing that the two charitable groups had been used for political purposes, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation and the Howard H. Callaway Foundation, both headed by former GOPAC Chairman and ex-Rep. Bo Callaway (R-Ga.).

The IRS decision had been affirmed by both the U.S. Tax Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

But Callaway, after contacting members of the House Ways and Means Committee, was granted another review under a little-known and seldomly used procedure that allowed him to make his case behind closed doors with senior IRS officials without any public input or scrutiny.

Last week, the agency confirmed that it had abolished the review process used by Callaway, the only individual publicly known to have been allowed the special procedure.

In his letter, Everson insisted that current tax law restricted the scope of publicly available documents to just the application forms submitted by groups seeking tax-exempt status.

“The Independent Review Process did not generate any material that would be public under” the tax code, Everson wrote. Any reports or memos generated during the process are confidential, he said.

McDermott, a senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee who had served on the ethics panel during the Gingrich probe, argued that the tax code allows public review of all documents related to a group’s application for tax-exempt status.

The closed-door review process specifically was considering whether to restore the status and, therefore, anything related to that review should also be public, McDermott argued.

“They have just stiffed us for any kind of information even though the IRS code says all documents pertaining to the granting of tax-exempt status are to be made public,” McDermott said in an interview.

He called the special IRS process used in the review “an incredible piece of chicanery” that has allowed Gingrich “to erase the record that he broke the law.”