The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 4      February 3, 2014

IRS moves to revoke
IFCO’s tax exemption
(front page)
NEW YORK — The Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization has received a report from the Internal Revenue Service recommending that IFCO be stripped of its tax-exempt status retroactive to Jan. 1, 2009.

In December attorney Martin Stolar filed a Protest and Appeal with the IRS on behalf of IFCO. If the IRS recommendation is upheld and implemented, IFCO could be liable for five years of back taxes.

“This is a political attack on our history and our work,” Gail Walker, co-director of IFCO, told the Militant. “We intend to fight it.”

IFCO, founded in 1966, carries out and sponsors numerous projects. Since 1992 it has been best known for “Friendshipment caravans” to bring humanitarian aid to the people of Cuba.

The IRS initiated an audit of IFCO in March 2011 after receiving letters from two members of Congress, Democrat Brad Sherman of California and Republican Sue Myrick of North Carolina. They urged the agency to revoke IFCO’s tax-exempt status for backing a project called Viva Palestina.

The audit, conducted by IRS employee Dawn Goldberg, took two and a half years. Its focus was IFCO’s decision to adopt Viva Palestina as a project. Viva Palestina, based in the U.K., describes itself as a group that organizes convoys to bring food and medical supplies to people in the Gaza Strip.

The IRS report, dated Oct. 22, 2013, says its conclusions relied on “several articles and at least one comprehensive report (the Investigative Project on Terrorism — ‘IPT’) posted on the Internet. These postings appear to support the alleged connection between Viva Palestina and Hamas.”

On that basis, the IRS report concludes that since “funding of HAMAS, a designated terrorist organization, is an illegal activity,” IFCO is not eligible for tax-exempt status.

Viva Palestina is not on the U.S. Department of State list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Nor is it on the Treasury Department list of “specially designated nationals” that are “owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of” countries or terrorist groups singled out by Washington.

Friendshipment caravans to Cuba

Another political target of the IRS are IFCO’s humanitarian aid caravans to Cuba, which the IRS says were “in violation of U.S. sanctions on Cuba.”

“The Friendshipment to Cuba is an open, above-board, well publicized program to counter the blockade of Cuba with educational and medical supplies,” Stolar told the Militant.

He pointed out that the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is responsible for enforcing the U.S. government’s sanctions on Cuba, has never taken any action or imposed any penalties against IFCO in the more than 20 years the caravans have been operated.

The IRS report itself says that in 1992 OFAC “issued a license to IFCO” for “medical supplies, bicycles, and school supplies” it took to Cuba and “OFAC has not conducted investigations into the more recent IFCO caravans to Cuba.”

The IRS also cites a number of other IFCO projects, including its support for U.S. students attending the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba and for fights against police frame-ups and incarceration. The IRS claims defense committees sponsored by IFCO benefit “a specific individual or small group of individuals” and are thus for “private benefit.”

The IRS “had a complete misunderstanding” of why IFCO supports such committees, Stolar said. Defense committees “are built around broader educational roles, like educating on political and racial incarceration, the rights of journalists and other important questions.”

The IRS, he said, “disagrees with IFCO’s politics, not whether it meets tax-exemption laws.”

The IRS has a history of targeting groups for political reasons. Last year Lois Lerner, IRS director of exempt organizations, was forced to apologize for agents going after groups associating with the Tea Party in an effort to deny them tax-exempt status.

“This isn’t the first time the government has threatened us,” Gail Walker told the Militant. In 2008 a New York court unsuccessfully sought to find Lucius Walker, then IFCO’s executive director, in contempt for refusing to testify about individuals who traveled to Cuba.

“We’re asking everyone to help get the word out about our fight,” Gail Walker said.

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