BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – In a stunning twist, the Internal Revenue Service has apologized today for unfairly targeting two Hawaii tea party groups and 25 other tea party organizations in 18 states across the country.
The apology followed demands by IRS employees that tea parties applying for a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status disclose membership lists, associations, transcripts, videos of rallies and much more.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represented some 30 tea party groups including the Honolulu Tea Party and the Maui Tea Party in an effort to get the IRS to retract the orders, called the demands “inappropriate”, “well outside the scope of legitimate IRS inquiry”, an “assault by the Internal Revenue Service” and a “violation of the First Amendment.”
“We knew from the very start that this intimidation tactic was coordinated and focused directly on specific organizations,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, who formerly worked as a trial lawyer with the Office of the Chief Counsel for the IRS.
On Friday, May 10, Lois Lerner, head of the IRS unit overseeing tax-exempt groups, admitted the practice was wrong and should not have occurred.
Lerner explained the practice was “initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and inappropriately focused on groups that included the words ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their applications for tax-exempt status, singling them out for additional reviews,” the American Center for Law and Justice said in a statement.
The Washington DC-based organization called the IRS apology a “significant victory for free speech and freedom of association.”
“This admission by the IRS represents a significant victory for free speech and freedom of association. There was never any doubt that these organizations complied with the law and applied for tax-exempt status for their activities as Americans have done for decades. And for the many tax-exempt groups we represent, this is an important day – and underscores the need to stand-up and defend your constitutional freedoms,” Sekulow said.
The IRS admission and apology should have come much sooner, Sekulow maintained.
“It took the threat of legal action to get the IRS to make this admission. And while many of the organizations we represent have finally been granted tax-exempt status, we demand the IRS to immediately approve the pending applications for the remainder of our clients,” Sekulow said.
Some 14 groups represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, including the Honolulu Tea Party and the Maui Tea Party, have been granted tax-exempt status by the IRS over the last several months, and others are pending, and none have been denied.
For Adrienne King, an attorney who headed the Honolulu Tea Party in 2011 and 2012, the apology is welcome news.
She was shocked and angered last year when she received an inquiry from the IRS demanding she provide detailed information on tea party activities, materials, pictures, videos, names of speakers and attendees as well as copies and recordings of actual speeches made at the events.
The July 27, 2012 IRS letter said: “Please provide details of your tax rally and confirm whether this is an accurate list (of speakers). How were these speakers selected? How much time was devoted to each speaker? What topics were discussed? Please provided any other information about the speakers that you think would be helpful to us in processing your application as well as copies of any materials or recordings from the speeches.”
The Maui Tea Party received a similar letter.
King said she has retained the services of American Center for Law and Justice to respond to the IRS after she believed the inquiry to be a violation of the First Amendment. It took over a year for the Honolulu Tea Party to receive the 501c4 status, but it was finally granted in late March.
“This admission and apology by the IRS is incredible news. The IRS admitted that they targeted tea party groups to try and silence our voices and stop our efforts to halt the left wing ideologues assault on liberty,” King said. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Keep yur guard up and right will win in the end.”
Miles L. Terry, Associate Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, added, “While I appreciate the honesty, ‘sorry’ is just not enough. Where is the compensation for hundreds of hours of attorney time? Where is the compensation for thousands of hours spent by Tea Party groups compiling tens of thousands of pages of documents?”
The organization also called for Congressional oversight hearings on this issue after more than 50,000 Americans requested it.
Niger Innis, Chief Strategist for TheTeaParty.net, agreed an apology is not enough and demanded a thorough investigation to see why the IRS is being used as a “political weapon” by the Obama administration.
“What would Democrats have done if the Nixon administration ordered the IRS to actively target the National Organization of Women or the American Civil Liberties Union? Nixon had his own enemies list and resigned. These activities are eerily similar, and yet Obama remains in office even in light of Fast and Furious, the Benghazi tragedy, and now the active targeting of his political opposition,” Innis said.
“We demand a thorough independent investigation into who did what, when, why, and how far up into the administration this scandal goes. We would expect intimidation like this from third-world, tin-pot dictators, not our own US government.”