The Senate Finance Committee wants to see confidential tax and financial records of 27 Muslim charities and foundations as part of a broad investigation into whether the tax-exempt organizations are tied to terrorist groups.
The committee has asked the Internal Revenue Service to turn over records that include lists of donors and leaders, applications for tax-exempt status, audit records and the results of criminal investigations, the Washington Post reported.
Committee staffers and outside experts say the request, announced Wednesday, is unusual in its scope. The Senate Finance Committee, along with a handful of other congressional panels, has the power to obtain private financial records held by the government under Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code. An IRS official said the agency expects to comply with the request.
In a letter to the IRS, the committee said, "Many of these groups not only enjoy tax-exempt status, but their reputations as charities and foundations often allows them to escape scrutiny, making it easier to hide and move their funds to other groups and individuals who threaten our national society." The letter was signed by the committee's Republican chairman, Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, and its ranking Democrat, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana.
The New York Times reported that some of the groups have been under scrutiny by the Treasury and Justice Departments for possible connections to Al Qaeda and Palestinian terrorists. However, the list also includes several national organizations that are "mainstays of communal life for many American Muslims," the newspaper reported.
Some Muslim leaders complain that the government's tactics are unfair, and result in less support for groups that try to provide medicine, food and other goods to the Middle East and elsewhere.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the Senate committee's tactic a "fishing expedition" targeting Muslims. The advocacy group for American Muslims said in a statement that the "Finance Committee's investigative net has been cast so wide that it seems to target all American Muslims as terrorism suspects â its indiscriminate scope smacks of a McCarthyite witch hunt."
One Senate aide said, "All the groups we're looking at are suspected of having some connections to terrorism or of doing propaganda for terrorists. We're not presuming anybody's guilty."