Tea Party Groups Say IRS Trampled on Rights

By Ken Berry  
 
More revelations about improprieties at the IRS are spilling out as members of "tea party" and other conservative organizations parade before a congressional panel. According to the testimony of members of six targeted groups given to the House Ways and Means Committee on June 4, the IRS held up applications for tax-exempt status, illegally released donor lists, and generally harassed organization officials.
 
The harassment extended to intrusive questioning and a barrage of requests for items like copies of résumés of board members, political beliefs of members, social media postings, and media communications – even the prayer content of one organization. 
 
On a related front, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) – chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigating the IRS scandal – released excerpts of testimony from IRS employees in the Cincinnati, Ohio, office that reportedly initiated the screening activities. During the course of interviews, IRS staffers rejected the notion that targeting conservative groups was merely the work of a few "rogue" agents. They said the instructions came from the national office in Washington, DC.
 
The allegations heard by the congressional panel evoked emotions. According to Karen Kenney, founder of the San Fernando Valley Patriots of California, the IRS bombarded the group with a list of thirty-five questions, including eighty sub-questions. "My personal favorite was question thirty-three, which, in relation to protests, asked for a listing of our 'committed violations of local ordinances, breaches of public order or arrests,' then requested details on how we 'conduct or promote' illegal activities," she said. As a result, the organization abandoned its efforts to obtain tax-exempt status, and Kenney claims that contributions are drying up.
 

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Dianne Belsom, president of the Laurens County Tea Party in South Carolina, testified the IRS asked for the group's articles of incorporation on three separate occasions. She also said the group had to facilitate copies of Facebook postings, videos of speakers at meetings, agendas, press releases, advertisements, and other related materials. It was, said Belsom, a process resulting in "hours of time, stress, and aggravation."
 
A member of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a group working against legislation of same-sex marriage, said its donor list was leaked to its political opponents, presumably by the IRS. "You can imagine our shock and disgust with this. We zealously guard our donors, as almost every charity does," said NOM Chairman John Eastman. He claimed IRS officials paid little attention to NOM's accusation, even though releasing donor lists is a felony.
 
Susan Martinek, president of the Coalition for Life of Iowa, said that the IRS asked for all its board members to swear, under penalty of perjury, that the group wouldn't pray, picket, or protest outside of Planned Parenthood. "We never thought we would have to defend our prayer activities," she said. 
 
Following the June 4 hearing before the House panel, IRS Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel – recently named to replace Steven Miller, who was essentially forced to resign – characterized the testimony as "troubling." He said he has assembled a team to review each of the cases. Werfel also promised "absolute transparency" in the agency's efforts to restore public confidence.
 
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