Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., said last week that the Iowa and Texas groups faced unfair IRS intrusion into their activities because of "political and religious bias" that chilled their constitutional rights. He turned over their IRS correspondence to the inspector general for tax administration and demanded an explanation.
Both groups received tax-exempt status after seeking help from the Thomas More Society, a conservative legal group. But counsel Sally Wagenmaker said the cases were troubling because the IRS asked inappropriate questions about their activities even though their applications should've raised no red flags, and they were forced to retain lawyers to win approval.
"Is it something bigger? I can't say. But is it of concern? Absolutely. Now the IRS is getting into content," she said. "The common thread here is scrutiny on a content basis and seeming to really bend over backwards on the conservative side."
Tax experts said the IRS inquiries appeared to be misguided attempts to ensure that groups were educational in nature and did not interfere with the rights of patients and employees.
"I can see what they are raising, but it seems to be there are very strong First Amendment issues here," said Richard Koontz, director of the Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center. "You don't want to let one nonprofit stop the activities of another. But you certainly want them to be able to criticize from dawn to dusk what another nonprofit is doing."
The Iowa group considers its mission to educate citizens about "the sanctity of life" and it has held forums on issues such as stem-cell research and euthanasia. Members also routinely walk and pray outside Planned Parenthood in Cedar Rapids. Sue Martinek, the group's president, submitted its application for tax-exempt status in October 2008.