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Ever had the urge to tell the Internal Revenue Service “None of your business”?
Most tax counselors probably would advise against that response, but it’s exactly what the federal tax-collecting agency soon will be hearing from a list of tea party organizations it has sent letters demanding information that is protected by the First Amendment.
The situation developed recently as the local tea party groups submitted paperwork for their federal status designations, in some cases as nonprofits. The IRS responded in what apparently is a coordinated campaign with questions including one for the names and contact information for relatives of board members.
The result is that the American Center for Law and Justice has agreed to represent the groups in their responses to the IRS.
There already are dozens of groups involved, and ACLJ chief Jay Sekulow told WND that he expects that total to rise quickly.
“There are certain questions that are outside the bounds,” he told WND. “They’re invasive, they violate free speech and association. Those questions will not be addressed.”
He said it appears the demands for such information from an agency supervised by Barack Obama is a “coordinated attempt.”
“Basically, we’re objecting to information that the IRS is requesting that is beyond the scope of its legitimate inquiry.”
On the ACLJ website, several questions from the IRS were quoted:
- Do you directly or indirectly communicate with members of legislative bodies? If so, provide copies of the written communications and contents of other forms of communications.
- Please describe the associate group members and their role with your organization in further detail. (a) How does your organization solicit members? (b) What are the questions asked of potential members? (c) What are the selection criteria for approval? (d) Do you limit membership to other organizations exempt under 501(c)(4) of the Code? (e) Provide the name, employer identification number, and address of the organizations.
- Do you have a close relationship with any candidate for public office or political party? If so describe fully the nature of that relationship.
“The quoted requests are merely the tip of the iceberg,” the ACLJ said. “We’re still reviewing the IRS letters and will have more information as we complete our review.”
The report continued, “Critically, the demands we’ve seen are made not in response to complaints of wrongdoing but instead in response to applications for exemption. In other words, the IRS appears to be conditioning the grant of exemptions on the extensive violation of the tea party’s fundamental First Amendment freedoms.”
She said the demands for information are incredible, citing one for copies of every single post to every single organization website page, Twitter feed and Facebook feed.
Another request demanded contact information for family members of each board member. And yet another wanted the name and contact for every person who ever had attended one of the group’s meetings.
The ACLJ said the intimidating letters implicated both free speech and free association issues.
Tea party groups earlier asked Congress to look into whether the Internal Revenue Service was following a political agenda by flooding them with demands for information before granting tax-exempt status.
One request came from Jamie Radtke, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Virginia, who asked Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., to look into the unfair treatment she believes tea-party groups have been getting from the IRS.
According to the Daily Caller, Radtke reported that after two and a half years of processing, the IRS “recently communicated a new set of overly burdensome and invasive demands for information that exceed the scope of the IRS code.”
Radtke, the Daily Caller reported, is a former president of the Richmond Tea Party. She said the latest demand includes 12 more questions in 53 separate parts, requiring copies of Facebook pages, names of donors, information about exactly how grants are spent and many other details.
The requests demand copies of Web pages “that are accessible only to your members.”
A similar situation developed for the Ohio Liberty Council, which asked Congress to investigate.
Spokesman Tom Zawistowski told the Daily Caller, “I defy any American to read this list of demands by the IRS and not be outraged.
“This is the kind of personal information that this government is going to be demanding from your church, your doctor, your hospital, your business and your favorite charity going forward,” he said.
“This has nothing to do with tax status,” Zawistowski told Fox News. “It has to do with political affiliation. The questions are too close to home.”
According to a letter posted online by Fox News, the IRS is demanding printed copies of organization Web pages, newsletters, bulletins, flyers, newsletters, social networking sites, officer rosters and revenues and expenditures.
“Have you expressly endorsed or oppose (sic) candidates for public office or slates of candidates at public events, on your website, on your radio show or You Tube page, in your literature or in any other forum? Do you plan to do so in the current election cycle? If so, provide a list of candidates for political office you have expressly endorsed or opposed, and describe the occasion on which you made each endorsement,” the letter states.
“Do you have a close relationship with any candidate for public office or political party? If so describe fully the nature of that relationship. Provide copies of any agreements you have with others for provision of goods or services, sharing of facilities or other cooperative arrangements, or anything else.”
At Hot Air Green Room, columnist Howard Portnoy questioned, “Is someone out to intimidate the tea party movement, and if so, who?”
An IRS official told Fox, “When determining whether an organization is eligible for tax-exempt status, including 501(c)4 social welfare organizations, all the facts and circumstances of that specific organization must be considered to determine whether it is eligible. … To be tax-exempt … they must be primarily engaged in the promotion of social welfare.”
The spokesman continued, “Career civil servants make all decisions on exemption applications in a fair, impartial manner and do so without regard to political party affiliation or ideology.”
But the Weekly Standard documented the situation of the Richmond, Va., tea party.
The organization said: “On December 28, 2009, RTP applied to become a 501(c)(4) organization. After nearly 10 months, the IRS finally responded with a letter (dated September 17, 2010), requesting detailed documentation to satisfy 17 questions, giving RTP only a two-week window in which to finish. (As the response was curiously due on the opening day of the inaugural Virginia Tea Party Convention, for which RTP was a central organizer, we requested and received a two-week extension.) We fully complied, providing over 500 pages of documentation. We received no response for over a year. Eventually the IRS sent a letter dated January 9, 2012, thanking us for our ‘complete and thorough responses’ from the first request, but then asking us to answer 12 additional questions in 53 separate parts, including the totally inappropriate request for a full list of our donors and volunteers.”