As you've probably heard by now, the head of the IRS's tax-exempt organizations divison, Lois Lerner, apologized on Friday that the agency targeted 501(c)4 organizations with "Tea Party" and "patriot" in their names. Lerner said this was not done out of political bias, because, as we all know, those words don't hold any political overtones. […]
At the end of the day on Monday, May 17, hundreds of thousands of little tax-exempt organizations will to turn into taxable little pumpkins. Under a provision of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, tax-exempt organizations that had been small enough to fall below IRS filing thresholds were required to start filing information reports. The law automatically revokes the exempt status of organizations that fail to file for three straight years. The deadline for that third year is May 17 for calendar-year filers.
Of course many of these organizations are inactive or defunct, but many aren’t. That means thousands of volunteer garden club, school parent organization and social club volunteer treasurers will unwittingly find themselves in charge of filing tax returns for their newly-taxable little corporations.
If you are an exempt organization treasurer or board member, you should find out right now whether your organization has filed. If your organization normally takes in less than $25,000 per year, the filing is a very simple on-line process, mostly just asking for identifying information. Bigger outfits will have to file a version of Form 990. If you need extra time, you can get a three-month extension on Form 8868. Some organizations, mostly governments and religious entities, are exempt from the filing and revocation rules.
But what will happen when these outfits lose their exempt status? They can ask for it back retroactively by filing Form 1023 or Form 1024 and paying a fee from $250 to $800. But many of these outfits will have no idea that they have lost their exempt status. What happens to them?
Most will become taxable C corporations or, in some cases, a taxable trust – depending on how they are set up. They will have income – for example, from contributions or dues – and they will be subject to normal Form 1120 filing requirements. If they fail to file, the normal kind and gentle penalties will accrue. Nobody really knows what the IRS will do about all of these little unwitting scofflaws.
And for what? Senator Charles Grassley explained back when the bill was passed in 2006:
The pension bill includes a good package of charitable giving incentives and loophole closers. It makes sense to tighten areas of abuse while increasing incentives for charitable giving. Americans are very generous with their donations. They deserve to know that their money helps the needy, not the greedy. Some individuals are creative about exploiting non-profits’ tax-exempt status for personal gain, and Congress has to be just as smart about shutting down abuse.
So take that, you greedy, abusive volunteer booster club treasurers! @ChuckGrassley has your number.