Focus vindicated after yearlong IRS audit

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Focus on the Family, under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service for possible violations of campaign laws that could have cost the ministry its tax-exempt status, has been cleared of all allegations.

Dr. James C. Dobson, who heads the Colorado Springs-based organization, announced on his Sept. 10 radio broadcast that the IRS vindicated the group in a letter to the ministry.

"Our examination revealed that Dr. Dobson's reported remarks did not occur in publications of Focus on the Family, did not occur at functions of Focus on the Family and did not involve Dr. Dobson's suggestion that he was speaking as a representative of Focus on the Family," Dobson said, reading from the letter. "As such, we are closing our examination without any change to our recognition of Focus on the Family as (a tax-exempt organization.)"

The IRS began its audit in 2005 after complaints were filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"No dings. No criticisms. Not a single allegation was found to have substance," said Dobson, reacting to the contents of the federal letter.

According to published reports CREW had accused Focus on the Family and Dr. Dobson of endorsing candidates for public office.

In its complaint the organization asked the IRS to conduct a "full-scale investigation" and to revoke Focus' tax-exempt status, levy fines and pursue "civil and criminal penalties," according to a report issued by Focus on the Family.

Gary Bauer, chairman of Campaign for Working Families, lauded the decision, calling it an attempt to thwart the conservative voice.

"This is yet one more example of how the left uses the power of big government to intimidate its opponents," Bauer wrote Sept. 12 in an e-mail to supporters. "Every election year, the liberal group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State sends out letters to pastors all over the country politely reminding them not to risk their churches' tax-exempt status by engaging in political activity. Of course it's a thinly veiled threat, and the IRS has a well-known history of  "selective enforcement." 

At press time, no official comments were posted on the Web sites for CREW or Americans United, although a blog on CREW criticized Focus on the Family for not making the letter available to them.

"Yes, Focus on the Family is claiming a win," the blog read. "But no one from the group will share the letter that purports to vindicate them. The fact is that Focus on the Family representatives are even asking reporters not to share the document with us. Their 'discretion' is puzzling to say the least."

In his radio program, Dobson concurred with Bauer's assessment, saying that the true target of the complaint was conservative Christians who speak out about abortion, marriage, homosexuality and other morally-based issues.

"The purpose for this was not only to see if they could damage us and take us out, but to scare every pastor and every nonprofit that's out there," Dobson said.