Several Republican members of Congress forwarded constituents' letters to the Internal Revenue Service claiming the NAACP had veered into political advocacy, a potential violation of the civil rights group's tax-exempt status.

The IRS began looking into the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People about a month before the 2004 presidential election after a speech by the group's chairman was critical of President Bush's policies.

Political campaigning is prohibited under the NAACP's tax-exempt status. The IRS said its inquiry has focused on whether the chairman's speech was too political, and that the investigation was just ones among dozens.

The NAACP received more than 500 pages of documents the IRS has gathered to begin its inquiry and posted them on its Web site, at www.naacp.org, under a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents include letters that members of Congress sent to the IRS on behalf of their constituents. The lawmakers include Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Susan M. Collins of Maine, Rep. Jo Ann Davis of Virginia, the late Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, and former Reps. Larry Combest of Texas and Joe Scarborough of Florida. All are Republicans.

According to published reports, spokespeople for those members of Congress still in office said they simply forwarded the concerns of their constituents, as they would for any constituent, and took no position on the issue.

The NAACP has called the IRS audit a political smear campaign.

Previously on WebCPA:

NAACP Will Challenge IRS in Federal Court (April 3, 2006)

IRS Releases New Guidance for Political Activities (Feb. 27, 2006)

NAACP Refuses IRS Doc Request, Claims Investigation Is Political (Feb. 2, 2005)

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