WASHINGTON – Republican U.S. Senate candidate Allen Weh this week challenged incumbent Democratic Sen. Tom Udall to return $46,500 in campaign contributions from a labor union and disclose his correspondence with the IRS.
Weh based his request on an ethics complaint filed in June against nine U.S. senators – including Udall – by the conservative-leaning, Washington-based Center for Competitive Politics. The group has alleged that to varying degrees the nine senators used their positions to pressure the IRS to crack down on conservative nonprofit groups, such as the tea party.
Bradley Smith, the group’s chairman, said in a Journal interview Thursday that Udall’s actions were among the “least egregious” of the nine senators, but improper nonetheless.
Udall spokeswoman Jennifer Talhelm told the Journal on Wednesday that the complaint was “a frivolous effort to politicize a serious issue.”
Udall’s campaign spokesman Daniel Sena said the senator “is proud of his support from New Mexican working families” and would not return the contributions from the National Treasury Employees Union, which includes the IRS, Customs and Border Protection and other federal employees.
Udall and other Democratic senators named in the ethics complaint in 2012 wrote two letters asking the IRS to scrutinize “social welfare agencies” to ensure they weren’t breaking laws that bar them from “substantial” political activity. The letters also proposed new IRS rules, such as capping political spending by such groups.
“Our position is senators are certainly within their right to do oversight of government agencies. It is not proper oversight for senators to urge an agency to turn down particular applications or investigate particular groups,” Smith said, adding that some senators actions’ were more egregious than Udall’s because they also issued press releases or made speeches naming the tea party in particular.
Udall has long maintained he never asked the IRS to scrutinize only conservative groups. Talhelm said Udall’s communications with the IRS amount to two letters Udall signed onto with other senators and that “those were made public and posted online when this issue first came up.
“This baseless ethics complaint was filed by a group of political operatives to make political mischief,” Talhelm said. “Shadowy groups on both sides of the aisle are trying to skirt the law to sway elections and influence politicians with their money. When Tom signed the letters to the IRS, he made it clear that it was because he believes the IRS should enforce the existing law so political operatives can’t hide behind the tax code while they conduct political campaign activity, no matter what party they’re from.”
Weh’s challenge to Udall comes amid an IRS controversy over how and why the agency applied additional scrutiny to the tax-exempt applications of conservative – and especially tea party – organizations. About two years of email records of former IRS official Lois Lerner have since disappeared, adding fuel to the controversy.
“Why is Udall silent on this instead of calling for the IRS to do the right thing and produce the emails?” Weh asked. “He needs to release his own correspondence with the IRS instead of hiding behind congressional exemption from the (Freedom of Information Act) laws, and return the $46,500 in contributions he’s received from the IRS employees union. New Mexicans deserve a senator who will hold himself to a higher standard and stand up for the people, not roll over for the biggest bully in the federal government.”
Talhelm said Udall believes the IRS should release its emails.
“Tom agrees that the IRS must comply with the Freedom of Information Act, do the right thing and produce its emails,” she said.