In March of 2012, Tea Party groups like the Richmond Tea Party were asked intrusive questions by the IRS as part of their application for tax-exempt status. Groups were asked to provide donor and membership lists, and their applications took years to handle. At the time allegations of targeting were strongly denied by IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman.
One group in Virginia which highlighted the targeting was the Richmond Tea Party. In February they detailed the over two year process, and invasive questioning they were required to endure in order to get a tax-exempt status. Within a week of the issue being raised, Jamie Radtke, the former Chairman of the Richmond Tea Party and a Virginia U.S. Senate candidate, sent a letter to Congressman Darrell Issa asking him to investigate the “assault by the Internal Revenue Service on Tea Party and Patriot groups.” You can read both the Sept. 17, 2010 and Jan. 9, 2012 letters from the IRS here.
Richmond Tea Party Board Member, Susan Lascolette, described the impact that this investigation had on their operation. “Our first response to the original 17 questions contained 500 pages of documents. It took hundreds of hours for a big group of people to assemble all of this documentation. We were unable to focus on our goals while we stopped everything to respond. Then, once we responded, the IRS took 444 days to send us the second letter asking for even more information. All of our work was shadowed by this cloud of an IRS denial. Unless you have been under the cloud of doubt with the IRS, you can’t comprehend how it affects your mission.”
The American Center for Law and Justice worked aggressively on behalf of the Richmond Tea Party and others in overcoming IRS obstacles, while Americans for Limited Government provided tactical support, and Mark Levin as President of Landmark Legal wrote a letter to the Inspector General of the U.S. Treasury demanding an investigation.
Today came the admission from the IRS that they were targeting conservative groups. An admission that only confirmed what those involved knew along was actually going on.
The IRS’ startling admission that groups with the name “Tea Party” or “patriot” were flagged for review is one of the most blatant mass abuses of power by the IRS in our nation’s history. Furthering the abuse, the IRS also admitted to breaking policy by asking for donor lists of targeted groups.
“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association.
“The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added.
While the apology is probably appreciated by most groups, it also rings of D.C. blame shifting jargon. Right after apologizing, she denied that it was political or that any “high level IRS officials knew about the practice.”
Really? Breaking policy right before an election to target groups that disagree with you isn’t political? Just like every other time the administration violates the law and is a political bully, continuing to blame it on low level officials will continue to be hard to believe.
The Richmond Tea Party flat out refused the apology and demanded resignations:
“Simply stated, an apology is not enough. Just imagine how it might feel to have the IRS threaten to withdraw a tax-exempt status. We had a responsibility to our volunteers, our donors, and to our supporters. Our rights to freely assemble and our free speech rights were clearly being threatened. In our opinion, this was an unabashed attempt to silence those who do not share the views of this administration. What other groups were targeted in this way? None.
“It would seem that resignations of managers and supervisors who are responsible for the Tax Exempt Organizations division should be demanded, at the very least. Is it their position that for over 2 years, no one knew about the US Supreme Court case — NAACP vs. Buttons, or about the actions of multiple ‘low level employees’? Was Ms. Lerner unaware of what her employees were doing? Did she not see the letters she signed? Sounds like a very poor manager to us.”
Rick Manning, Vice President of Public Policy for Americans for Limited Government agreed with the Richmond Tea Party saying, “It is absolutely appalling that the IRS Commissioner can blithely issue a non-apology and then refuse any responsibility in the matter. The use of the IRS as a political weapon has long been feared by political advocates on both sides of the spectrum, and heads need to roll at the IRS to serve as a warning against any further abuse of the public trust.”
It is estimated that volunteer tea party groups spent hundreds if not thousands of hours attempting to comply with the IRS’ illegal demands. The IRS demands deliberately shifted political opponents resources away from protected First Amendment political discourse and toward dealing with the federal bureaucracy.
The fact this stifling of dissent occurred during a presidential election year is all the more troubling, and it is up to the U.S. Congress to conduct a thorough investigation to hold those responsible for this unconscionable breach accountable.
Willie Deutsch is Editor-in-Chief for NetRightDaily.com, and Social Media Director for Americans for Limited Government. You can follow him on twitter @williedeutsch.