New challenge to tax-exempt status of lobby group that paid for pols’ summer junkets to Israel (including congressman’s nude swim)

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I’m sure you recall that in summer 2011, the American Israel Education Foundation, a spinoff of AIPAC, paid for junkets by 80-some congresspeople to Israel. The only interest the mainstream media had in this scandal was when a Kansas congressman went skinnydipping in the Sea of Galilee. Horrors.

Many people wrote to the IRS to complain about AIEF’s tax-exempt status, and a year back activists visited the Office of Congressional Ethics to complain about the trips.

I am told by Grant Smith, the head of Institute for Research Middle East Policy, that last month the IRS sent out a limp form letter to a large number of people who complained about the junkets to Israel last year, saying that their complaints had been forwarded to the Dallas office. Big deal. Smith sent me links to those letters:

09/10/2012 David L. Fish [an IRS manage] acknowledges citizen complaints a year after receiving the petitions for redress. “This letter responds to your letter received February 10, 2012 concerning alleged lobbying activities by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and/or the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF)..” Donald (pdf) Smith (pdf), Fritsh (pdf), Saidi (pdf) 

Smith adds, “When AIEF obtained tax exempt status in 1988, it didn’t mention congressional airlifts, but did promise to be an open “educational” institution”– notably to students in the U.S.  

“So I filed another complaint yesterday that it should not have been granted tax-exempt status,” Smith says. Here’s the complaint.

Here’s the press release Smith prepared on the new complaint:

 Washington, DC—On September 10 the IRS responded to a mass letter-writing campaign alleging Israel trips organized by an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) front organization were illegal.  Citizen letters to the IRS Tax Exempt Organization commissioner copied to both the Attorney General and US Attorney for the District of Columbia claimed:

“…Ever since the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) emerged from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1951, it has clashed with U.S. law enforcement. AIPAC and its predecessors have been investigated for election law violations, secretly laundering overseas funding into U.S. public relations and lobbying activities, use of tax-deductible donations to lobby, improper acquisition and circulation of classified U.S. government information, and Foreign Agent Registration Act violations… 

…AIPAC’s latest scheme is to use its tax-exempt alter ego, the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), to channel tax-deductible funds into its non-exempt lobbying activities. Please investigate and shut down future AIPAC-AIEF funded junkets to Israel! My member of Congress was elected to work for my neighbors and me, not a foreign country’s lobby…” 

During the 2011 summer recess more than 80 members of Congress were flown to Israel in a massive lobbying junket according to a participant list compiled by Legistorm.  IRmep’s Center for Policy and Law Enforcement filed a comprehensive criminal complaint (PDF) about AIEF on September 9, 2011.   It detailed how AIPAC skirted reform laws passed in 2007 intended to prevent lobbies from funding such travel by using the AIEF as a slush fund.  The AIEF has no employees and is housed within AIPAC’s Washington, DC headquarters. Although AIEF claims to be an educational organization, it makes no educational material directly available to the public or academic peer reviewers. 

On September 10, 2012 the IRS mailed identical responses (PDF) to petitioners stating “This letter responds to your letter …concerning alleged lobbying activities by the AIPAC and/or the AIEF…I can tell you that we maintain an ongoing examination program to ensure exempt organizations continue to meet the requirements for tax-exempt status.” 

“These tepid IRS promises will not stand,” claimed IRmep Director Grant F. Smith.  IRmep’s Center for Policy and Law Enforcement filed a second October 24 complaint (PDF) substantiating how AIEF violated the original terms of its 1989 application for tax exempt status.  IRmep obtained AIEF’s filing from the IRS during the complaint process.

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3 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    October 25, 2012, 11:02 am

    Waiting for IRS on this is a little worse than watching the grass grow. At least the grass will grow (in some circumstances). Tho slowly.

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