Hollywood Conservative Group Grapples With IRS Scrutiny As It Seeks Tax-Exempt Status
Hollywood’s largest fellowship of conservatives and right-of-center independents, Friends of Abe, has kept a low profile, driven by the desire to network with like-minded showbiz figures in a left-leaning industry.
But the org has been engaged in an effort of almost three years to establish 501(c)3 non-profit status that has posed a challenge to its ability to stay under the radar yet obtain a common non-profit status that has been given to other Hollywood-connected non-profits and charities. That has drawn the scrutiny of the Internal Revenue Service.
At one point, according to sources familiar with the IRS review, the agency inquired about obtaining access to a portion of its website that would allow it to view a list of members, which Friends of Abe did not provide, although that was not in the most recent list of questions that the agency sent to the group last week.
“It has been a slow process for FOA,” said Jeremy Boreing, a director, screenwriter and producer who is a lead organizer for Friends of Abe. “They (IRS) have asked for an awful lot of things. We have been spending the last three years trying to get that determination.”
In the most recent inquiry, the IRS asked for information such as the nature of events they have held featuring speakers Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain, and whether they were candidates for office at the time, sources said. They also asked for information about how speakers were selected, and why a speech introducing Cain could not be considered campaigning.
They also asked for the criteria for such figures as Thaddeus McCotter and Kevin James to have advertisements of meet-and-greet appearances post on their website. The IRS also has examined other portions of the group’s website, accessible only to members and including postings about various events as well as a job board listing of openings in the industry.
The IRS’s guidelines for 501(c)3 organizations, set up so charities and educational entities can have tax exempt status, say that it cannot be an “action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”
The organization is not exactly secret, as the press has reported such figures as Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Miller, Gary Sinise, Lionel Chetwynd and Jon Voight as FOA members, and many of those celebrities have been public about their political opinions. After launching almost 10 years ago, its regular functions have drawn an array of national political figures, like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and then-Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, with larger annual gatherings of about 1,500 people at David Murdock’s Ventura Farms.
But its events are closed to the press, primarily because lesser known members have expressed fears that their conservative positions will be held against them in the hiring process. And some members say they have been concerned about giving access to specific membership information, not just because of the prospect of it being released to the public because of the industry history of the blacklist and the implications of “turning over names,” as one member said.