IRS Political Appointee Defended Obama’s Church in IRS Inquiry

July 18, 2013 - 6:15 PM

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IRS Chief Counsel William J. Wilkens. (Photo: IRS)

(CNSNews.com) – IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins, one of two Obama political appointees at the agency and whose office reviewed certain Tea Party tax-exemption applications starting in early 2010, is a lawyer who defended Obama’s denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), when the IRS questioned its tax-exempt status following a speech by then-Senator Barack Obama in 2007.

“We were so interested in the case we offered to do it pro bono,” said Wilkins.

Senator Obama spoke at the UCC General Synod held in Hartford, Conn., on June 23, 2007 and it was his remarks about running for president that triggered the IRS action.  His pastor from Chicago, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, gave a videotaped introduction of Obama at the event.

In his speech, Obama said, “Well, it’s been several months now since I announced I would be running for president, and in that time I’ve had the chance to talk with Americans all across this country, and I’ve found that no matter where I am, or who I’m talking to, there’s a common theme that emerges. It’s that folks are hungry for change.  They’re desperate for something new. They’re ready to turn the page on the old politics and the old policies.”

Sen. Obama then went on to call for ending the war in Iraq and closing Gitmo, reforming immigration, implementing universal health care, and increasing the minimum wage. He also denounced “the so-called ‘Christian right’ who are too eager to exploit what divides us.”

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Barack Obama, left, and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. (AP Photo)

Later, in February 2008, the UCC received a letter from the IRS alerting the denomination that the agency would be inquiring as to whether the church had engaged in political activities which might compromise the church’s tax-exempt status.

The letter stated, “Our concerns are based on articles posted on several websites including the church’s which state that United States Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama addressed nearly 10,000 church members ….  In addition, 40 Obama volunteers staffed campaign tables outside the center to promote his campaign.”

At the time of the IRS investigation, William J. Wilkins was working as a lobbyist for the WilmerHale legal firm, which eventually took up the cause of defending the UCC pro bono and ensuring the church retained its tax-exempt status.

“Had the IRS pursued the matter, it would have raised serious questions about the First Amendment's application to church activities,” Wilkins said.

On April 17, 2009 – a little over a year after Wilkins represented Obama’s church of 20 years against the IRS – President Obama appointed Wilkins to be chief counsel of the IRS.  In a press release issued that day, Obama praised Wilkin’s expertise in non-profit tax law, saying,

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(AP Photo)

“He has a broad tax practice that includes counseling nonprofit organizations, business entities, and investment funds on tax compliance, business transactions, and government investigations.”

In the spring of 2010, the IRS, including the office of Chief Counsel Wilkins, would begin submitting Tea Party tax-exemption applications to a discriminatory and burdensome system of scrutiny, according to a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

On August 14, 2011, the office of the Chief Counsel and the IRS Rulings and Agreements office met to discuss what the TIGTA report says was a briefing on the tactics of Tea Party scrutiny, “so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue.”  It is not clarified, from the TIGTA report, whether Wilkins attended that meeting but Reuters, citing an IRS statement, reported that Wilkin’s was not there.