Conservative Group Claims Durbin Threatening IRS Audit

A group calling itself “Move America Forward” claims that Sen. Dick Durbin (D, IL) has threatened them with an IRS audit if they do not cease running television ads attacking Durbin’s comparison of conditions at Guantanimo to those in despotic death camps.

Durbin’s Staff Trying to Silence Critics, Group Says (CNS -Townhall, July 11)

A conservative advocacy group says it will not be intimidated by pressure from Sen. Dick Durbin’s office. Move America Forward, a group that supports the U.S. military and wants to eject the United Nations from the United States, is currently running broadcast ads criticizing Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, for comparing U.S. troops at Guantanamo Bay to Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or mad regimes like Pol Pot’s. “But these aren’t the faces of torturers, the ad says: “They’re the heroic men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces. They’re our sons and daughters fighting for the cause of freedom around the world. Support our troops, at”

Durbin’s office is trying to silence Move America Forward, the group says, by hinting to an Illinois newspaper (the Northwest Herald of Crystal Lake) that the Internal Revenue Service should audit Move America Forward. Someone from Durbin’s office was quoted as telling the newspaper – in connection with Move America Forward — “Have you ever seen that H&R Block commercial where the guy leans in and says, ‘I see an audit’?”

“For the office of a United States senator to threaten reprisals from the IRS against an organization that is supporting our troops in harm’s way is absolutely reprehensible,” said Mark Washburn, executive director of Move America Forward. “One of the grounds used to threaten impeachment of President Richard Nixon was that he politicized the IRS and tried to use IRS audits of his political enemies to shut them down or silence them. That is precisely what Senator Durbin’s office is doing now, Washburn said. “There is no place for that in American politics, and Senator Durbin must be held accountable.”

Move America Forward also accused Durbin’s office of pressuring Illinois television stations not to run the television ad criticizing Durbin’s remarks about U.S. troops at Guantanamo Bay.

If Durbin were threatening to have the IRS conduct a fishing expedition audit of his critics, it would amount to criminal misuse of Durbin’s authority. That’s not what’s happening here, though.

Here’s the entire comment in context from the July 2 Northwest Herald story:

Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker discounted the ads, noting that only three of the state’s TV stations had sold advertising time to the group. There are more than 30 TV stations in Illinois. The ad is expected to air on stations based in Rockford, Champaign and Peoria, and those ads cost a total of $3,180, Shoemaker said. “What this group really wants is free publicity,” Shoemaker said.

The group’s funding sources could not be verified Friday. Washburn said the group had applied to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit. The tax status is the same as churches and traditional charities.

“We’ll smack around anyone who needs educating,” Washburn said.

Internal Revenue Service spokesman Dan Boone said it was illegal for 501(c)3 groups to run political ads, although he said he could not comment on whether the Move America Forward ad is political.

“Have you ever seen that H&R Block commercial where the guy leans in and says, ‘I see an audit’?” Shoemaker asked.

Clearly, threatening to turn in a group that may in fact be violating the tax code for a specific offense is within the bounds of proper conduct. Arguably, it would be a government official’s duty to do so. And the IRS certainly investigates such violations without regard to partisan impact. For example, the NAACP is being investigated for possible violations during recent elections.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.