IRS computer helps where humans hinder, hectored conservative says
By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — The Internal Revenue Service boasts a workforce of some 97,000 employees. Marvin Munyon says he feels like he’s talked to most of them in his nearly two-year odyssey through delays, threats and a bureaucratic nightmare haunted by hours on the phone and piles of paperwork.
But it took a machine to finally give Munyon and his Rock River Patriots some relief.
As reported earlier this week in Wisconsin Reporter, the Rock River Patriots, an educational organization that supports limited government and free markets, was hit with IRS fees and penalties in the group’s quest for tax-exempt status.
COMPUTER FRIENDLIER? Marve Munyon, of conservative group Rock River Patriots, said some relief from the IRS finally came from a Revenue Service computer program.
Munyon, the group’s secretary and treasurer, has long said the southern Wisconsin-based organization has been, like hundreds of other conservative cause associations, targeted, even persecuted, by the IRS, simply because of its tea party-sounding name.
“We are being totally overrun by an out-of-control government,” Munyon said in a story published on Tuesday.
Shortly after talking to Wisconsin Reporter, Munyon received a follow-up letter from the IRS, ostensibly freeing the Rock River Patriots from late fees and penalties for the 2011 tax year — if the group sent in a check for its liabilities and interest within six days. The amount totaled $232.56, and Munyon said he immediately sent out the check via certified mail.
The resolution, Munyon was told, came in the form of a computer-generated form letter, after nearly two years of getting nowhere with humans at the IRS.
But the runaround didn’t end there. Munyon said nothing has been settled on the IRS-assessed fines and penalties for tax year 2012. So he called the IRS office in Ogden, Utah, and talked to an agent who told him that his pleas for assistance wouldn’t be seen by human eyes.
“She said, ‘That letter you wrote, nobody looks at that. (The IRS response letter) is a computer-generated thing that comes off automatically. ‘If you want that to be considered, you have to write again to another address,’” Munyon said.
He was instructed to write to the IRS Service Center Penalty Appeals Coordinator in Ogden.
“I couldn’t figure out how a computer could read my letter and respond,” Munyon said, chuckling. “She (the IRS agent) told me if I sent a letter to the appeals center an actual group of human beings would read the letter and make a decision.”
Asked whether a computer program made the final determination in the case, the IRS, again, said it could not address individual tax cases, but sent this very general, very long, email response:
“In general, when a taxpayer has a tax issue, the taxpayer will often work with IRS employees or IRS agents to resolve the problem. Those IRS employees will work personally to review the individual facts and circumstances involved and to make an appropriate determination. The outcomes vary according to the particular situation, but can include additional tax and penalties, or abatement of additional tax and penalties. In some cases, while an IRS employee makes the determination regarding a penalty (or abatement of penalty), the taxpayer may still owe an amount of tax and interest on tax. Calculating the interest owed as of a specific date can be a complex calculation. For accuracy, a computer program is often used for these calculations,” the agency stated.
Munyon was informed that if he quickly sent in a check for the group’s 2012 tax liability — totaling $419.15, including penalty and interest through Jan. 27 — the organization wouldn’t be on the hook for any more penalties or interest. Munyon said he promptly made that payment, also by certified mail. Human beings at the IRS, he was assured, would review whether the group’s penalty fees would be reimbursed.
The issue, according to Munyon and other conservative organizations, is much bigger than a few hundred dollars. They say there remains a concerted effort to disrupt small, grassroots conservative groups.
The Rock River Patriots were caught in an administrative Catch-22. Munyon in April 2012 applied for 501(c)(4) designation for the group, as a pending tax-exempt organization.
Munyon was informed by letter in January 2013 that the IRS was delayed in reviewing applications for tax-exempt status, all the while the meter was running on the conservative organization’s tab with the IRS.
The agency eventually did offer the group a “special” tax-exempt status, if Munyon would pledge the group never had or never would violate election law.
Munyon said he didn’t want that kind of help from an agency now notorious for targeting conservative groups, found to have flagged and delayed limited government nonprofits applying for tax-exempt status.
He finally threw up his hands and dropped the group’s pursuit of tax-exempt status. For an organization with limited resources, tax-exempt status can mean the difference between staying open or closing down.
Munyon said there is nothing partisan about the Patriots’ politics. Just ask U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, or Madison businessman Eric Hovde, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Madison Democrat Tammy Baldwin. The Rock River Patriots, Munyon said, grilled the two conservative politicians at question-and-answer sessions sponsored by the group. The politicians didn’t want to come back.
“We told them that this is not a Sunday school picnic. This is a group of conservatives concerned about what’s happening in America,” Munyon said. “We’re not Democrats or Republicans. We’re people who believe in the constitution and want to see our country go back to following the Constitution and free-market principles.”
Bob Dohnal, publisher of online and print publication the Conservative Digest, told Wisconsin Reporter that, “Out of nowhere three years ago I got a letter canceling our 501(c)(3)” tax-exempt status. Dohnal said the IRS sent him a letter saying the organization had not filed tax returns.
“We did not do more than $25,000 in business and all we had to do was send in a letter, which we did,” he said.
Organizations with annual gross receipts of less than $25,000 aren’t generally required to file Form 990, but they do have to file an electronic postcard form called the Form 990-N.
“Our attorney sent a letter to that effect, but we have not heard back so we just keep sending letters,” Dohnal said, adding that several local Democrats have threatened to complain to the IRS about the Conservative Digest.
In the months after the IRS was found to have delayed the tax-exempt filings of conservative groups, agency Deputy Commissioner Danny Werfel proudly announced new actions and steps to fix the problems. The idea was to hold IRS management “accountable,” to take “immediate steps to help put the process for approving tax-exempt applications back on track.”
Munyon will tell you he’s seen no change in an agency that he says is better served by its machines than its people.
After nearly two years standing up to the IRS, Munyon said he’s done playing an unwinnable game. But he expects his bureaucratic nightmare is far from over.
“I will probably be audited,” he predicted. “I’m sure we’ll all personally be audited this year. You need to be prepared for that.”
Contact M.D. Kittle at email@example.com
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