Documents released by a House committee do shed some light on the inner workings of the IRS's Exempt Organizations division and how it approached applications of social welfare non-profits, also known as dark money groups because they spend money on elections without reporting their donors
A GOP-led House committee voted Wednesday to seek criminal charges against former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official Lois Lerner, who used to run the IRS division in charge of tax-exempt groups. In a party-line vote, the committee accused Lerner of unfairly targeting the applications of conservative groups and misleading the Treasury inspector general, which was auditing the IRS based on allegations of bias against conservative groups.
Though the committee referred Lerner to the Justice Department for prosecution, it will likely have little practical effect, as the Justice Department is already investigating the Internal Revenue Service and Lerner. But the documents released by the committee do shed some light on the inner workings of the IRS's Exempt Organizations division and how it approached applications of social welfare non-profits, also known as dark money groups because they spend money on elections without reporting their donors. The influence of such groups has skyrocketed since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision.
Here are the top five takeaways ProPublica found from the documents:
1. The IRS planned to deny the application of Crossroads GPS.
Crossroads GPS spent more than $90 million from unknown donors to elect conservatives in the 2010 and 2012 elections, far more than any other dark money group. By the beginning of 2013, the IRS was planning to deny the group's application, the documents show.
After applying to the IRS in September 2010, Crossroads started spending, and campaign-finance watchdogs started complaining. An IRS panel considered taking a deeper look at Crossroads twice — in November 2010 and June 2011 — but rejected the idea both times. One reviewer in November 2010 said that Crossroads was a "for-profit entity," a mistake Lerner later wrote that she found "most disturbing."
By June 2012, the IRS created a spreadsheet on Crossroads to analyze the group's TV ad costs and track whether the ads were political or issue advocacy. A description of the group's website in an IRS spreadsheet said it "appears to be an anti-Obama Administration website; however there are educational materials on site."
In late 2012, Crossroads' application was released to ProPublica in response to a public-records request — even though it wasn't supposed to be made public. The application showed that Crossroads told the IRS that its political spending "will be limited in amount."
The IRS received 25 referrals on Crossroads GPS between 2010 and 2012, the documents show — a referral is a complaint about a nonprofit, and can include a formal request for investigation or simply a news article.
On Jan. 2, 2013, an IRS spokeswoman, Michelle Eldridge, emailed Lerner and other IRS officials about questions from ProPublica over Crossroads' application. "I recommend that we just let this one sit and wait out the deadline," she wrote.
In an email two days later, Lerner wrote that she had read through allegations from campaign finance watchdogs about Crossroads, adding that they "were really damning."
By Jan. 9, 2013, the IRS was drafting a denial letter to Crossroads, the documents show. There was no more significant action until May 2, 2013, when a call was made to discuss the "draft denial letter."
Then on May 8, 2013, documents indicate that the IRS was also looking at "the draft denial of a similar case."
From May 13 until May 17, 2013, the IRS continued "working on draft of letter." By May 30, 2013, the first working draft of the denial was finished and sent for review.
But by that point, the IRS had come under scrutiny for revelations that it had targeted Tea Party groups for extra review. There's no proof that the letter to Crossroads was ever sent.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, Crossroads GPS President Steven Law said the group was still waiting to hear final action from the IRS on its application. Like the House Ways and Means Committee, Law accused Lerner of improperly singling out Crossroads for extra review.
"Crossroads GPS submitted its application to the IRS for formal recognition of its non-profit status when the group was formed in 2010," Law said. "It is now apparent that Ms. Lerner was directly and improperly involved in targeting our application, which may explain why we are still awaiting final action."
Meanwhile, Lerner's lawyer, William Taylor, said that Lerner had done nothing wrong. "She did not interfere with the rights of any organization to a tax exemption," he said in a statement.
2. The IRS also planned to deny the applications of other conservative groups that had spent on elections after telling the IRS they wouldn't do so.
Crossroads GPS wasn't the only dark money group facing denial before the IRS controversy blew up.
In response to a public-records request in late 2012, the IRS had also sent ProPublica the pending applications for five other conservative social welfare nonprofits that had told the IRS that they wouldn't spend money on politics but then did so. The groups were Americans for Responsible Leadership, Freedom Path, Rightchange.com II, America Is Not Stupid and A Better America Now.
ProPublica wrote about the groups on Jan. 2, 2013. Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to the acting IRS commissioner at the time, forwarded the story to Lerner and two other IRS officials on the afternoon it was published in an email with the subject line, "latest article."
The same day, Lerner asked to set up a meeting to talk about the groups' applications.
The Ways and Means Committee found that four of the five groups had been subjected to heightened scrutiny, and three were audited, though it's not clear which ones. The IRS recognized both America Is Not Stupid and A Better America Now last year. Americans for Responsible Leadership was also recognized in October 2013 — despite spending almost $10 million on elections in 2012 and paying a record-breaking fine in California for violations of election laws.
In January 2013, Lerner also indicated more social welfare nonprofits would be denied. On Jan. 31, she emailed the chief of the IRS office of appeals, saying that in the next few months her office believed appeals would "get a lot of business" regarding denials of social welfare applications.
"I told them (the appeals group) this is a place where we have worked very hard to be consistent and have all our cases worked by one group, and suggested th ey (sic) might want to do something similar," Lerner wrote, adding that her office was being audited because of allegations of political bias in these cases. "If I were you, this is definitely something I'd want to be aware of and have a high level person overseeing and reporting regula rly (sic) to me. You were in TEGE (the Tax Exempt/Government Entities division) long enough to understand how dangerous what we do can be."
The documents included spreadsheets of the application status of various groups, including one providing aid in Pakistan and another trying to set up a medical marijuana dispensary as a charity. One spreadsheet indicated that a Tea Party group could be approved as a social welfare nonprofit but not as a charity.
But of all the groups listed in a 2011 spreadsheet as being flagged for review, only Emerge America and its affiliates ended up being denied. Those groups trained Democratic women to run for office.
3. The IRS really is not equipped to police elections — and knows it.
In the documents Wednesday, Lerner acknowledges how poorly the IRS monitors these groups, which are allowed to spend money on elections as long as they can justify they primarily work to benefit the community at large.
At one point, on Jan. 7, 2013, she wrote an email complaining that the IRS was not following up with groups that hadn't filed their tax returns, or Form 990s. She wrote that if the IRS only opened audits on groups that filed tax returns, "that's a big hole in the system."
"Then you have newspapers telling us what the orgs (sic) are doing, but we never look," she wrote. "If the org has been around log (sic) enough to owe us a 990 and they aren't filing to hide what they are alleged to have done, it should be our job to go out and get the 990 and then determine whether the allegations — that are very strong — are true."
"My level of confidence that we are equipped to do this work continues to be shaken," she wrote in another email. "I don't even know what to recommend to make this better."
Officials from two campaign-finance watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, said Wednesday that they had met with Lerner and other IRS officials in early January 2013 over their allegations that several social welfare nonprofits, including a liberal group and a nonpartisan one, were overly political. They said Lerner refused to talk about individual taxpayers.
"We left the meeting extremely frustrated because neither Ms. Lerner nor her colleagues revealed anything," said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. "I would use the word 'frustrated' in general in our attitude toward the IRS." He later added, "The IRS hasn't done anything" to enforce restrictions on political spending with these groups.
4. Most new liberal groups don't apply to the IRS.
Social welfare nonprofits don't have to be recognized by the IRS, because donations to them are not tax-deductible. They just have to incorporate as social welfare nonprofits in their state of choice.
Conservative groups typically have applied for recognition anyway, possibly because their donors want the IRS seal of approval.
One of the most active liberal dark money groups, Patriot Majority USA, has been recognized by the IRS. But other liberal groups have taken advantage of the loophole.
Often, they incorporate, never apply to the IRS, spend money on elections and then fold after filing a tax return or two.
The newly released documents show that one of the most prominent liberal dark money groups, Priorities USA, never applied to the IRS for recognition.
Liberal dark money groups have been much less active in elections than conservative ones since the Citizens United decision. About 85 percent of the anonymous money spent in 2010 and 2012 came from conservative groups. Priorities USA, despite being run by top liberal operatives, reported spending nothing on federal elections in 2012.
5. Lerner may have considered applying to work at a leading liberal social welfare nonprofit.
On Jan. 24, 2013, she emailed two senior IRS officials, asking if Organizing forAction — the nonprofit formed from the leftovers of President Barack Obama's campaign organization — had applied for IRS recognition.
One of the officials, Holly Paz, told Lerner she wasn't sure.
Another IRS official, Sharon Light, said she thought it likely that OFA would follow Priorities USA's path and not apply. "But maybe not," she added. She noted that while OFA would be run from Chicago, it would also have a Washington office.
"Oh — maybe I can get the DC office job!" Lerner emailed back.
It is unclear whether she was joking.
100bestbuy.com is accused of delivering sub-standard or different products than what were ordered online by customers. Also the online shopping site is allegedly luring gullible customers with its ‘pay & get a chance to win’ contests
Singapore-based (as per info from ScamAdvisor.com) online retail portal 100bestbuy.com often comes out with exciting ‘combo’ offers of branded products at dirt cheap prices. Several customers, wooed by the offer, immediately click the buy button when they see the promised cash back, clubbed together. However, later, in most cases it has turned out that 100bestbuy.com is delivering products completely different from what the customer had ordered. In fact, several customers alleged that they received products that were sub-standard and from unknown brands even after paying for branded products.
They further say that complaints to customer services at 100bestbuy.com do not elicit any response and the online shopkeeper do not refund money easily either. The online shopping portal displays address of Bangalore-based Suksh Technology Pvt Ltd as its official contact address in India. But 100bestbuy.com does not accept any product returns or letters on this address.
Moneylife reader, Subodh Karkera had the first-hand experience with 100bestbuy.com, which he shared with us. He said he ordered ‘Ralph Lauren: red polo t-shirt’ from 100bestbuy.com and paid Rs574 (Rs449 for T-shirt plus Rs125 shipping cost) using his debit card on 3 March 2014. However, there was no delivery of the T-shirt. Even after making enquiries with 100bestbuy.com customer services department, there was no answer. After over 20 days, Karkera received an email providing shipment details for ‘Bad Mushroom: white polo t-shirt’, which he never ordered!
Karkera says he immediately contacted 100bestbuy.com and asked them to cancel his order and stop the dispatch. But all in vein. On 26th March, 100bestbuy.com delivered ‘Bad Mushroom: white polo t-shirt’ to Karkera. He, however refused to accept the delivery and sent a reminder to the online shopping portal.
Importantly, the ‘Bad Mushroom, white polo t-shirt’ that was sent to Karkera was cheaper by Rs31 compared with the Ralph Lauren Red polo t-shirt that he ordered. He says, “These offenders should go behind the bars for taking consumers for a ride.”
But Karkera’s is not the only incident about 100bestbuy.com. Venting his anger on MouthShut.com, one angry customer, Rahul Verma wrote, “I purchased three chinos (coloured pants) combo pack from 100bestbuy. After three months they shipped my order. I was happy that after all I got my order but when I opened, I was shocked that they have sent me torn cloths and it was not my order at all. They had sent me the torn ‘pajamas’ clothes. Please don’t purchase anything from 100bestbuy.com.”
According to ScamAdvisor.com, this online shopping portal has ‘low trust rating and it may not be safe to use’. It says, “100bestbuy.com is Singapore based, but the real location is being hidden”.
It further says, “This website (100bestbuy.com) has been reported as being untrustworthy. This website/ business has been given a low reliability rating by other websites. The owner of the website is using a service to hide their identity.”
One should check ‘safety’ and ‘privacy’ features of site before sharing their bank details and purchasing online. Moneylife earlier wrote cover story; Get the best of online shopping for the holiday season to guide customers about dos and don’ts of online shopping.
Un-lucky draw contest from 100bestbuy!
100bestbuy.com also offers ‘Pay & get a chance to win’- lucky draw contests, which require customers to pay certain amount to enter into contest and they also promised cash back if they don’t win contest. Few days later they often contact customers and ask customers to buy some of the ‘combo’ pack products and pay. Many customers complained that they never received their money back as promised!
100bestbuy.com offered branded and high valued products like iPhone 4S at just Rs333 through their ‘contest’. By paying Rs333 and providing login details, customers can participate in the contest and if they don’t win the contest than they will get their ‘money back’ so people often fall into prey to get valued products at low price. The contest also gets expired within few hours so, people often pay for it online and enter in the contest only to find that it is over. However, despite this 100bestbuy.com continues to promote the offer.
As you see above image, it mention special price as Rs333 (save Rs44,167) and exactly below that in Best Deal it asks to pay Rs444 for a chance to win Apple Iphone 4s worth Rs44500 with promise to refund 100% of money!
The ‘terms & conditions’ on 100bestbuy explain that, “10 lucky winners will be chosen through a lucky draw conducted by 100bestbuy and informed by email. All participants will get 100% cash-back, in terms of credit points (for e.g.: if you buy any deal or contest worth Rs100 you will be getting 100 credits points in your 100bestbuy account by which you can buy any products on 100bestbuy) Cash back will be done only in terms of credits points. The contest coupon is valid for 90 days only.”
One such victim, Shailendra Srivastava said, “I had participated in the contest for Apple iPad and paid Rs199 from my credit card. One day their executive called me and confirmed that I am the contest winner and they are sending my wining product for which I have to pay Rs397 as courier charges. After paying the courier charges I had opened the parcel and surprised by seeing that they had sent the ‘Kuber’ statue, which was not having the worth of more than Rs50. I returned the product and asked my amount back but they refused. They even said no to give me the credit points. To utilize my credit points, I again placed an order for two leather belts and paid Rs87 more for courier, which was of bad quality, hence I returned product. They are not returning my money and forcing me to again purchase some products from them. Kindly help me to get my money back as this company is totally fraud and they are openly cheating the innocent people.”
One customer reviewed its customer service and said, “I am one of the victim. This is the worst or pathetic customer service one can expect after making the payment (hard earned money) they may not understand this as it easy earned money for them. This business and the web link should disappear very soon, ban this site. Poor quality, simply worst costumer service they should take some cue from some govt customer services which are far better, No value for money!”
Read more stories on online shopping…
ASCI has received a gold award from EASA, the single voice of advertising self-regulation in Europe, for significantly reducing average time taken to handle complaints
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has received a gold award from European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) for significantly reducing the average time taken to handle complaints.
"Last year we won the EASA Silver Awards for the National Advertising Monitoring Service (NAMS) initiative, which started tracking most of the print and TV ads in India. That award spurred us to focus on improving ASCI's effectiveness and credibility as a SRO delivering speedier redressal of complaints and higher compliance of its decisions, which has got the Gold this year," said Partha Rakshit, chairman of ASCI in a release.
EASA, the single voice of advertising self-regulation in Europe, said, "The ASCI put in place actions to substantially reduce the journey time of complaints - from their first point of contact with the Secretariat, through the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) and on to the transmission of the final decision to the advertiser and complainant."
With the new system, ASCI has reduced the lead time of complaints processing to 12 days from on an average from 45 days. Suspension Pending Investigation (SPI) was one of the significant measures of ASCI whereby an extremely objectionable ad can be removed immediately pending investigation. Expansion of its Consumer Complaints Councils (CCCs) to two from one and weekly meetings instead of bi-monthly also helped ASCI to reduce response time for complaints.
ASCI was awarded the gold by the judges comprising representatives from the advertising industry associations like advertisers, agencies and media.