Millions of Internal Revenue Service audit subjects across the nation must be relishing this.
In a major role-reversal, the IRS finds itself in the crosshairs with the filing of a lawsuit that seeks a halt the ongoing illegal harassment of conservative-leaning organizations – an offense to which the agency already has admitted.
The organizations represented in the case brought by the American Center for Law and Justice not only are demanding that the court order the IRS to grant them the tax-exempt status for which they’ve qualified, but also pay damages of $1,000 for each unauthorized inspection of their tax returns.
“The IRS and the federal government are not going to get away with this unlawful targeting of conservatives,” said ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow. “As this unconstitutional scheme continues even today, the only way to stop this flagrant and arrogant abuse of our clients’ rights is to file a federal lawsuit, which we have done.”
Sekulow said 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.”
“They will not be subjected to unconstitutional treatment and unlawfully singled out and punished because of their ideological beliefs,” he said. “Those responsible for this unprecedented intimidation ploy must be held accountable.”
Several members of Congress already have said that jail would be the appropriate penalty for the offenses committed by individuals.
The IRS has been under congressional scrutiny since an official who later refused to resign and was placed on leave admitted publicly that the agency discriminated against conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status.
Applications were delayed as the agency demanded information such as names of friends and family, the content of prayers and the names of donors – much of which is illegal to require.
The lawsuit is on behalf of 25 tea party and other conservative groups. It names U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, 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; and named officials inside the IRS.
The case asks the court to find that the Obama administration overstepped its authority and violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act and the rules and regulations of the IRS itself.
It requests a declaratory judgment that the defendants unlawfully delayed and obstructed the organizations’ applications for a determination of tax-exempt status by means of “conduct that was based on unconstitutional criteria and impermissibly disparate treatment of the groups.”
The suit also seeks injunctive relief to protect the plaintiffs, their officers and directors from further IRS abuse or retaliation. Further, the lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive monetary damages to be determined by trial at a later date.
The groups were damaged, according to the lawsuit, when Obama’s administration “unlawfully delayed and thereby effectively denied approval of plaintiffs’ applications for tax exempt status by means of a comprehensive, pervasive, invidious and organized scheme that purposefully established unnecessary and burdensome inquiries and scrutiny of plaintiffs’ applications based solely upon plaintiffs’ political viewpoints (or defendants’ assumption of plaintiffs’ viewpoints, based on their organizational names).”
The ACLJ said other groups likely are to be added to the action.
While the IRS has blamed the scandal on a small number of “rogue” agents, the ACLJ says it has documentation that the national office of the IRS in Washington also was involved.
Among the plaintiffs: Linchpins of Liberty, Greenwich Tea Party Patriots, Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots, Unite in Action, Allen Area Patriots, Laurens County Tea Party, North East Tarrant Tea Party, Myrtle Beach Tea Party, Albuquerque Tea Party, Colorado 9/12 Project, San Antonio Tea Party, Wetumpka Tea Party, OKC PIA Association, Richmond Tea Party, Hawaii Tea Party, Shelby County Liberty Group, Manassas Tea Party, Honolulu Tea Party Waco Tea Party, Kentucky 9/12 Project, Chattanooga Tea Party and American Patriots Against Government Excess.
The complaint says the conservative organizations were targeted to keep them from opposing Obama in an election year.
“Defendant Lerner publicly acknowledged the IRS’s discriminatory treatment of the tea party organizations, expressly admitting, on behalf of the IRS, that the applications of groups whose names included ‘Tea Party’ or ‘Patriot’ were singled out and subjected to additional IRS scrutiny,” the suit says.
The strategy limited the group’s fundraising, which effectively silenced them, violating their “federal constitutional and statutory rights.”