Senate Democrat urges IRS to review tax-exempt status of pro-Trump group Turning Point USA

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) speaks during the third day of the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., October 14, 2020.

Drew Angerer | Reuters

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., has called on the head of the IRS to review the tax-exempt status of Turning Point USA, a dark-money organization led by pro-Trump activist Charlie Kirk.

In a letter Tuesday to IRS commissioner Charles Rettig, Whitehouse said the 501(c)(3) nonprofit student group should have its tax-exempt status reviewed because he believes it broke Covid-regulations when it reportedly hosted two large events in Florida.

One of those gatherings, according to The Washington Post, was at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club.

Read the letter here.

“According to press reports and social media posts, many participants gathered and mingled indoors without wearing masks, in violation of Palm Beach County’s COVID-19 regulations.” Whitehouse told Rettig in the letter.

“In holding these ‘superspreader’ events, Turning Point USA knowingly exposed hundreds of young people and staff working at the events to serious risk of infection,” he added.

“Accordingly, I urge the IRS to review whether it should revoke Turning Point USA’s tax-exempt status.”

A Turning Point representative initially didn’t respond to a CNBC request for comment. Later, a spokesperson for the group said that they would be open to speaking with Whitehouse about what took place during the event.

“The conference in question was held on county property in coordination with local officials. TPUSA even turned away students to comply with reduced capacity limits and social distancing protocols to successfully complete the full, four-day program as planned,” the spokesperson said. “Nevertheless, TPUSA is hopeful this is just a misunderstanding and would be honored to discuss and clarify this matter with Senator Whitehouse directly as it seems he’s been misinformed about the nature of the event.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with moderator Charlie Kirk after a discussion at the Generation Next forum in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Whitehouse is the latest member of the Senate Finance Committee to call on the IRS to investigate conservative dark-money organizations, which do not disclose their donors.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who is expected to become chairman of the committee after Democrats take over the majority this week, requested the IRS to look into groups that were involved with organizing the Jan. 6 rally that led to a riot on Capitol Hill.

Democrats will have control of committees after their wins in the Georgia Senate runoffs. There will be a 50-50 split in the Senate, but Democrats will have a tie-breaking vote in Kamala Harris, who will become vice president Wednesday.

Turning Point Action, a 501(c)(4) group affiliated with Turning Point USA, bused supporters to the rally. A Turning Point Action spokesperson previously told CNBC the students got back on their buses after the rally, did not take part in the march, and condemned the violence that ensued at the U.S. Capitol.

Whitehouse has previously targeted dark-money organizations, including with legislation that would reveal their donors. Whitehouse, who is also on the judiciary committee, which recently took aim at the groups during a confirmation of hearing of Amy Coney Barrett, who was eventually confirmed onto the Supreme Court.

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