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Richard Nixon talked about doing it. And Bill Clinton took it a step further and actually attacked individuals through the processes and paperwork of the Internal Revenue Service.
Now America knows that the Obama administration did the same thing, after the IRS apologized today for inappropriately targeting and attacking conservative political groups during the 2012 election season.
The confirmation came from Lois Lerner, chief of the unit that oversees tax-exempt organizations across the country.
She blew out of the water those who charge that conservatives are "conspiracy" nuts on the issue of the IRS with her confirmation that groups that included the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their applications were put in a political bull's-eye.
The American Center for Law and Justice under Jay Sekulow's leadership had been fighting the battle already.
"We knew from the very start that this intimidation tactic was coordinated and focused directly on specific organizations," said Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ.
"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."
The ACLJ has been representing nearly 30 tea party organizations who had been the subject of intimidation tactics from the IRS under the Obama administration as they applied for various status levels under IRS regulations.
The federal government had demanded information that was outside the scope of legitimate inquiry and violated the First Amendment, the ACLJ explained.
The Obama IRS hierarchy, in fact, demanded that groups reveal the internal workings of their organizations – "including the identification of members, how they are selected, who they associate with, and even what they discuss."
And the names and contact information for their relatives.
Sekulow said it took the threat of legal action from his organization "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 immediately approve the pending applications for the remainder of our clients," he said.
Sekulow, who served as a trial lawyer with the office of the chief counsel for the IRS earlier in his career, said the questions included those that simply were inappropriate and fall well outside the scope of legitimate IRS inquiry.
For example, IRS agents demanded answers to questions including:
- "Have you attempted or will you attempt to influence the outcome of specific legislation? If so, provide the following … all communications, pamphlets, advertisements, and other materials."
- "Have you conducted or will you conduct candidate forums? If so, provide the following details… The issues that were discussed. Copies of all handouts provided."
- "The names of persons from your organization and the amount of time they will spend on the event. Indicate the name and amount of compensation that will be paid to each person…"
- "All copies of your corporate minutes from inception."
- "Please identify your volunteers."
- "The names of donors, contributors, and grantors."
- "Do you encourage eligible voters to educate themselves, register to vote, and vote? Explain in detail how you do this."
- "You were formed 12/28/10. Provide actual financial information for 2010 & 2011, and a budget for 2012. Provide details regarding each item listed."
The ACLJ also has called for congressional hearings on the problem, and more than 50,000 Americans have joined in that call.
Nixon talked about sending the IRS after his political enemies, but in fact that activity did not develop. It was Clinton who did it.
Among Clinton's targets was WND founder and CEO Joseph Farah.
"As someone whose organization was a victim of this kind of illegal harassment and intimidation and political retribution during the Clinton administration – and who blew the whistle on it – my question is, 'Who is going to be fired and prosecuted as a result of this admission?'" he said.
"Apologies are nice. But they don't excuse people of crimes. When government officials abuse their power and break laws, they need to be punished as certainly and severely as ordinary citizens. In fact, to maintain trust in government, we need to ensure they are held to a higher standard. So what happens now? Who's going to take the rap? Which law-enforcement agency is going to investigate? It would seem that an independent prosecutor is necessary unless the Congress is willing to take the lead."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the White House should do a review to assure "the American people that these thuggish practices are not under way at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views."
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told WND, the admission from the Obama administration is stunning, to have used "the federal agency feared most by Americans to intimidate conservative and tea party organizations during an election year."
She questioned directly whether that means, since the IRS also is the chief enforcer of Obamacare requirements, whether "the IRS will deny or delay access to health care" for conservatives.
At this point, she said, that "is a reasonable question to ask."
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said, "Although I am happy that it has finally admitted to placing politics over policy, the IRS owes conservative groups far more than a mere apology for their unfair treatment. It is crystal clear that additional safeguards are in order to prevent this obtrusive behavior in the future. This overt and excessive harassment of groups targeted for their political beliefs is despicable, and many questions remain. How were 'low-level workers in Cincinnati' able to initiate practices that completely undermine the IRS's promise to treat all groups with an even hand? Even more, what were they hoping to do with the copious personal information they obtained from these groups?"
Portman last year along with Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, urge the IRS to stop politics from interfering in its activities.
"It is critical that the public have confidence that federal tax compliance efforts are pursued in a fair, even-handed, and transparent manner – without regard to politics of any kind," the senators said at the time. "It is imperative that organizations applying for tax-exempt status are able to rely on a consistent and foreseeable review structure from the IRS. Any significant changes to the IRS review process should be implemented only after appropriate notice and opportunity for comment from the public and affected parties."
Hatch said, "While I’m glad to see the IRS apologize for unfairly targeting conservative groups, this frankly isn't enough. We need to have ironclad guarantees from the IRS that it will adopt significant protocols to ensure this kind of harassment of groups that have a constitutional right to express their own views never happens again. "
He continued, "There can be no tolerance for the IRS being turned into a political weapon; it has a chilling and, frankly, Nixonian effect on those who wish to speak their mind. I will be discussing this further with the head of the IRS and expect a full briefing and report as to how this happened. The American people deserve to know who at the IRS learned about this unlawful activity, when they learned about it, and what they did, or did not, do when they did learned about it."
WND reported on the situation a year ago with the ACLJ started representing tea party organizations.
The organization said at the time the IRS was "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.
IRS officials earlier defended their demands, telling 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."
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio., had cited the possibility of political retaliation against conservations last summer.
"The fact that Americans were targeted by the IRS because of their political beliefs is unconscionable," he said.
The IRS said it singled out groups that referenced "tea party" or "patriot."
Officials blamed "low-level workers in Cincinnati" for the practice and claimed it "was not motivated by political bias." It was not explained how "low-level workers" were able to single out and target 300 groups the IRS admitted were involved.
Jenny Beth Martin, of Tea Party Patriots, wasn't exactly buying the government's latest story.
"It is suspicious that the activity of these 'low-level workers' was unknown to IRS leadership at the time it occurred," she told AP. "President Obama must also apologize for his administration ignoring repeated complaints by these broad grassroots organizations of harassment by the IRS in 2012, and make concrete and transparent steps today to ensure this never happens again."