updated 5/16/2005 9:29:05 PM ET 2005-05-17T01:29:05

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will retain the tax-exempt status offered to nonprofit groups after the Internal Revenue Service reviewed the animal-rights organization, a PETA attorney said Monday.

The IRS conducted the 20-month audit in response to complaints by businesses such as KFC and Ringling Bros., which had been targets of protests by the organization, PETA general counsel Jeff Kerr said.

“This campaign was clearly directed at trying to silence PETA,” Kerr said.

An IRS spokeswoman confirmed that the organization had retained its tax-exempt status but said disclosure laws prohibited her from saying whether PETA was audited or what would have prompted an investigation.

The Foundation to Support Animal Protection, PETA’s supporting organization, also was audited and allowed to keep its tax-exempt status.

This was the second time the IRS had audited PETA. The first audit was conducted in the early 1990s.

PETA, founded in 1980, has an annual budget of $20 million. It employs about 170 people at its Norfolk headquarters and has small offices in New York and Los Angeles.

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