The Maryland lawmaker made the comments while he was announcing that he is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the IRS during a conference call on Wednesday.
“There’s been a lot of attention to the recent investigations into the IRS review of applications from organizations seeking 501(c) (4) tax exempt status,” Van Hollen said. “Those investigations have gained substantial notoriety but for the wrong reasons, because the facts clearly demonstrate that the IRS was not engaged in some kind of partisan, political witch hunt orchestrated out of the White House. “
While some members of Congress continue to probe the federal agency's targeting of conservative groups, Rep. Van Hollen says he wants to address what he sees as the "root of the problem".
“The root of the problem is that the IRS is currently in the business of trying to determine whether the primary purpose of an organization seeking 501 (c) (4) status is social welfare or whether their primary purpose is political,” Van Hollen said.
Van Hollen has joined Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and Public Citizen in filing the lawsuit against the IRS.
“This lawsuit is very straightforward. It asks the court to order the IRS and the Department of the Treasury to comply with the plain meaning of the law," Van Hollen said. “Just follow the statute, which as I indicated, says that an organization can only achieve 501 (c) (4) status if it’s exclusively involved in social welfare activities.”
Under current IRS rules, “the promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.”
The IRS controversy began after a Treasury Inspector General audit found the agency flagged more than 300 groups, including many whose names included the words “tea party,” “patriots,” or “9/12 Project”.