IRS Grants Non-Profit Status to Hollywood Conservative Group Friends of Abe

Hollywood’s largest fellowship of conservatives and right-of-center independents, Friends of Abe, has been granted 501(c)3 non-profit status by the Internal Revenue Service, about three years after it first sought the designation.

Jeremy Boreing, lead organizer for the group who has been serving as its executive director, said their attorney received word late on Friday that they had been granted the status.

The organization has operated as a fellowship for conservatives in an industry with a leftward tilt. Launched almost 10 years ago, it has included such figures as Kelsey Grammer, Jon Voight and Gary Sinise among its members, and a roster of speakers that has included Paul Ryan, Herman Cain, Eric Cantor and, most recently, Ted Cruz.

But even with its ideological bent, its organizers have emphasized that does not raise money for candidates or engage in elective politics.

Rather, it has been set up as a conservative educational fellowship, and it sought the status as its membership grew to the point where they needed to pay for office overhead, Boreing said. The status will allow the group to accept charitable contributions.

Moreover, 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.”

“We feel validated that the IRS agreed with our assessment that the nature of our organization is that it is not a political organization,” Boreing said.

Friends of Abe faced an extended period of scrutiny as it sought the status, a delay that raised suspicions that it had gotten caught up in the same type of IRS review of organizations, including Tea Party groups, that had sought 501(c)4 status, which are allowed some limited political and lobbying activity. The revelations that the IRS put greater scrutiny on applicants based on their names or political affiliation drew considerable furor last year.

At one point, the IRS asked for access to a password-protected portion of the Friends of Abe website that included a list of members, according to sources familiar with the review. The group did not provide the access, but it did face a substantial delay in obtaining the status as the IRS sent queries about its events and activities.

“We feel the outcome is the right outcome, but after three years it is hard to be really enthusiastic. It is just a relief,” Boreing said. “There are a lot of other organizations that are probably in a similar situation.”

An Inspector General’s report last year concluded that the agency used “inappropriate” criteria in identifying groups with specific policy positions, like conservative groups or ones with “Tea Party” in their names, as they sought the 501(c)4 status.

In response, the IRS issued proposed new guidelines in November in an effort to better define the application process. But those proposed rules also have raised ire among conservative and liberal groups.

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