BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN– The American Center for Law and Justice filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in Washington, D.C., on behalf of The Honolulu Tea Party, Hawaii Tea Party and nearly two-dozen conservative groups across the country.
The 29-page lawsuit names the U.S. attorney general, Treasury secretary and Internal Revenue Service — including top IRS officials as defendant. The lawsuit comes after a May 10 admission and apology from Lois Lerner, head of the IRS unit overseeing tax-exempt groups, that tea party groups were wrongfully targeted.
The admission may have confirmed what tea party and conservative group leaders already believed: The Obama administration used the IRS to harass and intimidate groups viewed as a political threat.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said the IRS and the federal government will not get away with unlawful targeting of conservative groups.
He maintained the “unconstitutional scheme” continues, and legal action is the only way to stop the abuse.
“The lawsuit sends a very powerful message to the IRS and the Obama administration – including the White House: Americans are not going to be bullied and intimidated by our government,” Sekulow said. “They will not be subjected to unconstitutional treatment and unlawfully singled out and punished because of their ideological beliefs. Those responsible for this unprecedented intimidation ploy must be held accountable.”
Adrienne King, head of the Honolulu Tea Party on Oahu, joined the lawsuit because, she said, the IRS apology was insufficient.
King, an attorney, was shocked and angered last year when she got 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 speeches made during events. The IRS also wanted to know how the speakers were selected, how much time was devoted to each speaker and topics discussed.
The Maui Tea Party on Maui received a similar letter. The local tea party groups previously retained the American Center for Law and Justice to help them combat what they saw as a troubling inquiry.
The federal lawsuit claims the Obama administration overstepped its authority, violating the First and Fifth amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act. The lawsuit says the IRS violated its own rules and regulations.
Also named as defendants in the lawsuit: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the Internal Revenue Service; Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew; Steven Miller, former acting commissioner of the IRS; Lois Lerner, director of Exempt Organizations Division for the IRS; Holly Paz, director, Office of Rulings and Agreements.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to issue a declaratory judgment to confirm the defendants delayed and obstructed the organizations’ applications for a determination of tax-exempt status.
The lawsuit seeks to protect conservative groups and their officers and directors from “further IRS abuse or retaliation.” It also seeks monetary damages.
Of the 25 groups represented in the lawsuit, 13 received tax-exempt status after lengthy delays, 10 are still waiting and two withdrew applications “because of frustration with the IRS process.”
While Lerner said only a couple of rogue IRS agents in the Cincinnati office initiated the abusive behavior, and were subsequently stopped, the American Center for Law and Justice said it has evidence the tactics were used in other IRS offices, including at the headquarters in Washington.
The American Center for Law and Justice obtained letters that show Lerner was personally involved in sending “invasive questionnaires” to 15 of their clients in March 2012, nine months after she said she learned about the scheme and pledged to stop it.
More than 100,000 Americans have called on the president and members of Congress to end the IRS abuse, Sekulow said.
See more on the web at www.aclj.org