Exclusive reporting from the Daily Signal reveals that top Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) has been busy urging key federal agencies – including the Justice Department and the IRS – to crack down on conservative nonprofits for supposed misbehavior during the COVID-19 pandemic and other alleged offenses.
The actions of the lawmaker were brought to light through a public records request made by the American Accountability Foundation government watchdog group which yielded 176 pages of relevant correspondence.
Whitehouse took particular aim at Turning Point USA back in January of 2021, complaining to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig that the group flouted pandemic rules by hosting events at then-President Donald Trump's Florida resort that did not incorporate prevailing masking and social distancing protocols, as CNBC reported at the time.
The Rhode Island Democrat told Rettig in a letter that, according to media reporting and social media posts, “many participants gathered and mingled indoors without wearing masks, in violation of Palm Beach County's COVID-19 regulations.”
“In holding these 'superspreader' events, Turning Point USA knowingly exposed hundreds of young people and staff working at the events to serious risk of infection,” Whitehouse added, urging possible revocation of the group's tax-exempt status.
Whitehouse has reportedly also requested review of organizations he broadly classifies as “dark money” groups that do not disclose the names of those who contribute to their coffers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court having rejected compelled disclosure rules on multiple occasions and his silence on progressive groups who operate in identical fashion.
The senator alleged that certain conservative nonprofit groups were guilty of engaging in political activity without informing the IRS, resulting in inconsistent statements being made to federal and state agencies.
When he did not receive details or status reports on the investigations he sought of conservative nonprofit organizations, Whitehouse reportedly contacted not just Rettig, but also Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Attorney General Merrick Garland to ask why the probes he demanded were not progressing.
“This fact pattern, where tax-exempt organizations' submissions under oath to different government entities are plainly inconsistent, should present straightforward cases for the IRS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to pursue,” Whitehouse declared. “Such facts present prima facie cases of noncompliance with IRS rules, and predicate 'false statement' investigations.”
“I request that IRS and DOJ together brief my office on this matter,” Whitehouse added. “I request both Commissioner Rettig and Attorney General Garland to clarify the referral policy between IRS and DOJ so that well-predicated investigations do not constantly fall between the infielders.”
In the eyes of Tom Jones, president of the American Accountability Foundation, Whitehouse is engaging in nothing more than blatant weaponization of federal agencies against political opponents.
“It's Lois Lerner on steroids,” Jones told the Daily Signal, referencing the Obama-era scandal in which an IRS official was taken to task for targeting tea party-affiliated nonprofit groups.
“The Lois Lerner stuff was a mid-level bureaucrat abusing [her] power to investigate conservative groups. This is a U.S. senator basically trying to turn the heat up on investigations by the Internal Revenue Service,” Jones added.
Jones characterized Whitehouse's antics as a “spaghetti-to-the-wall approach” designed to see what allegations might stick to the conservative groups he is targeting, and while the IRS thus far has declined to play ball and accede to his demands, only time will tell if that will remain the case.