IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — When a small anti-abortion group in Iowa sought nonprofit status, the Internal Revenue Service asked its board to promise not to organize protests outside Planned Parenthood and demanded to know how its prayer meetings and protest signs were educational.
Although the Coalition for Life of Iowa's application was ultimately approved in 2009, the tax collection agency's treatment of that and other anti-abortion groups has gotten new attention in the wake of an ongoing scandal over the alleged targeting of conservative groups.
The IRS apologized for singling out tea party groups for scrutiny in 2010 and 2011, but Republicans now are seizing on the coalition's case to question whether the effort may have been broader and started earlier.
Groups with tax-exempt status, known as 501(c)(3) nonprofits, must have educational, charitable, religious or other charitable purposes and cannot be involved in elections or engage in substantial lobbying activity. But they can conduct educational campaigns about their causes that do not have to be balanced, and their members retain their constitutional rights to assemble and protest.
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Tuesday the IRS was out of bounds in seeking information on the group's prayer activities and a guarantee that it wouldn't protest at Planned Parenthood.
"That's outrageous that that statement would be made by anybody in government, that somehow you've got to compromise your First Amendment rights," Grassley said. "It appears the IRS offered this group a quid pro quo: you can become a charity if you don't protest in front of a Planned Parenthood."
Outgoing Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller told Grassley he was unaware of the case, but apologized generally for poor service.
The Iowa group isn't the only anti-abortion organization that appears to have been singled out for scrutiny. In 2011, another IRS employee asked Christian Voices for Life of Fort Bend County in Texas whether it provided "education on both sides of the issues" in its programs and whether its members try to speak with anyone entering medical clinics, correspondence shows.