WASHINGTON — Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) has asked President Bush to “call off the dogs at the IRS” by terminating the tax agency’s probe of the NAACP.

Rangel co-signed an Oct. 29 letter to IRS Commissioner Mark Everson accusing the IRS of launching the audit “to intimidate members of the NAACP … in their get-out-the-vote effort nationwide.”

The letter, also signed by Reps. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), added, “The chilling effect of the IRS’ attack on the NAACP will be felt by the tax-exempt community at large and cannot go unchallenged.”

Everson sent the NAACP a letter Oct. 8 informing it of the investigation. He cited NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond’s keynote speech to the group’s August convention in Philadelphia in which Bond blasted Bush and the Republican’s racist “southern strategy.”

Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), wrote to Everson Nov. 2, saying that the attack on the NAACP is reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s use of IRS audits as a weapon against groups on his “enemies list,” a key element of the Watergate conspiracy. “LCCR believes that it is antithetical to our country’s principles of free speech and democracy,” Henderson wrote, “to use the tax code to silence those with opposing views.”

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way (PFAW), said, “The people running this administration are bullies. But I know Julian Bond and Kweisi Mfume. They aren’t going to be bullied.”

Neas noted that earlier this year the Bush administration had attempted to use the Federal Election Commission to silence “527” nonprofit advocacy groups, who are vital in leveling the electoral playing field by offsetting the Bush campaign’s enormous advantage in corporate money.

“PFAW and other nonprofit organizations created the Coalition to Protect Nonprofit Advocacy and successfully beat back that attempt to silence election year criticism of the president and other incumbents,” Neas said.

In a Nov. 8 editorial, the Detroit Free Press called on Bush to end the IRS “witch-hunt,” pointing out that a tax-exempt Roman Catholic group campaigned heavily for a proposition banning gay marriage but has not come under IRS scrutiny. “The double standard here is neon bright,” the paper said. “And the silence around it only emboldens the view that the NAACP is being punished for speaking out against the president.”

In his letter to the NAACP, Everson demanded to know who authorized Bond’s speech and how much the convention cost. He also ordered the NAACP to turn over “the names, addresses of each person on the board in July” and the minutes of board meetings “where the speech was discussed and voted on” as well as “supportive documentation if they believe the speech was not prohibited campaign intervention.”

OMB Watch, a Washington-based whistleblower group, charged that the probe of the NAACP “goes far beyond” the widespread abuses by the IRS documented in the group’s 2003 report, “An Attack on Nonprofit Speech: Death by a Thousand Cuts.”

That report accused the Bush administration and its allies of “retaliatory action” against nonprofit groups that express views different from theirs and “aggressive application of the global gag rule” that prohibits advocacy of abortions.

In addition to the NAACP, groups targeted for retaliation have included Advocates for Youth, which had its federal funding slashed after it criticized Bush’s “abstinence-only” birth control policies; the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, which almost lost its grant; and groups receiving Head Start grants, to whom the Department of Health and Human Services sent an illegal letter telling them they could not lobby for increased funding.

This record of retaliation demonstrates the administration’s “willingness to force its point of view on nonprofits and take punitive action toward those that raise questions,” the report stated.

When Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry spoke from church pulpits during the campaign, GOP lawyer Tom Josefiak said, “We’re concerned it’s jeopardizing the tax status of the church.”

The White House had already been caught asking churches to turn over the directories of their members to be proselytized for Bush. The ultra-right Christian Coalition brags that it delivered 30 million “voter guides” to 80,000 churches in this election. Yet there is no IRS probe of this flagrant activity.

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com.