Hollywood Conservative Group Gets Tax-Exempt Status

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Friends of Abe, a private group of politically conservative entertainment-industry workers, said Sunday it has been granted tax-exempt status after battling with the IRS for three years.

The group, known among insiders as FOA, said the IRS has designated it a 501(c)(3) and backdated the status beginning in February 2011, when FOA first formed as a legal entity.

FOA as a fellowship, though, has existed for nearly 10 years, loosely formed by actors Gary Sinise, Kelsey Grammer and Jon Voight, along with the late Andrew Breitbart, writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd and others. Friends of Abe is a reference to Abraham Lincoln, the country's first Republican president.

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The new designation from the IRS means the group may accept tax-free donations as long as it doesn't actively participate in political campaigns, which is fine by FOA since it prefers to remain merely a watering hole for those who lean to the right in a famously liberal community.

FOA events have included presentations from some of the biggest names in conservative politics, such as writer Ann Coulter, former GOP vp nominee Paul Ryan and, most recently, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who addressed the group on Saturday.

The group had successfully remained under the radar for several years, but its struggles with the IRS made that goal more difficult. On the other hand, the recent unsolicited attention might have been what encouraged the IRS to finally grant FOA the tax-exempt status it had previously been denied, said FOA executive director Jeremy Boreing.

"We are relieved, but after three years, it's hard not to wonder if this would have happened without the media scrutiny," Boreing told The Hollywood Reporter. "The bottom line is that even the appearance of partisanship at an organization like the IRS has a stifling effect on free speech, and that's bad for everyone."

Today, FOA consists of about 2,000 people, some of whom are famous, though most are rank-and-file employees working in TV, film and music. One of the more contentious issues in the battle for tax-exempt status was that the IRS wanted FOA to provide the names of its members, a request that FOA never complied with, Boreing said.

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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