WASHINGTON — A witness at a congressional hearing today on IRS targeting of conservative organizations claims he has proof the agency illegally leaked confidential information.
“I would call the disclosure of our donor lists by the IRS a felony,” charged John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, or NOM, in Washington, D.C., in emotionally charged testimony Tuesday before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Eastman testified that the organization’s IRS Form 990 tax return, which lists its donors, was published on the website of the Human Rights Campaign, a "gay-rights" advocacy group.
He claimed to have proof the IRS leaked his organization’s confidential donor list under questioning by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Eastman said “forensic” specialists within his organization had stripped layers from the document posted on the HRC website to identify “meta-data,” or unseen embedded code, that identified the document as having originated from within the IRS.
Eastman testified the “internal IRS stamps” in the meta-data of the NOM donor list provide “proof” the document originated from within the IRS and was leaked to HRC to embarrass and “chill” NOM donors opposed to same-sex marriage.
“You can imagine our shock and disgust over this disclosure,” Eastman told the panel. “We jealously guard our donors.”
Eastman alleged the IRS leak of his organization’s non-public donor list was “a deliberate act” undertaken in a manner to avoid detection, a charge he said he was prepared to substantiate with evidence.
"This just smells and I hope this committee gets to the bottom of it," he concluded.
According to the Daily Caller, NOM has forwarded allegations to the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, demanding to know whether or not the IRS was responsible for leaking to the HRC confidential donor information regarding a $10,000 contribution Mitt Romney made to NOM in 2008.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, called the hearing to have six conservative groups detail the IRS bias they allegedly experienced in their application for tax-exempt status.
"They are Americans who did what we ask people to do every day, add their voice to the dialogue that defines our country," Camp said.
"And for pursuing that passion, for simply exercising their First Amendment rights, the freedoms of association, expression and religion, the IRS singled them out," he added.
Ryan added to his earlier fireworks when he objected to a statement by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., that the IRS delays could be explained by administrative errors and that there would have been no allegations that First Amendment rights had been compromised by the IRS had the groups not chosen to apply for tax-exempt status.
“The charge here is that these groups were targeted for the political beliefs,” Ryan stated for the record, directly countering McDermott’s statement.
Witnesses vividly described abuse at the hands of their own government.
“It was frightening to have the IRS inquire about the details of our protests in front of Planned Parenthood offices,” testified Sue Martinek of the Coalition for Life of Iowa of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"As Christians, we know we needed to pray for better solutions for unplanned pregnancies," she said.
A particularly poignant moment came when Becky Gerritson, president of the Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama, was unable to hold back tears and told lawmakers, "I'm a born-free American woman."
Her voice cracking but firm, she continued, "I'm telling my government, you've forgotten your place."
Dianne Belsom, president of the Laurens County Tea Party in South Carolina, described the long delays her group endured.
"Nearly three years in waiting for an answer is totally unacceptable," she said.
"I'd like to note that our group is a small-time operation with very little money, and this represents a complete waste of time by the IRS in terms of any money they would collect if we were not tax-exempt," said Belsom.
Among the other allegations made by the witnesses in their opening statements were that IRS questionnaires asked to self-report details of prayer meetings, required them to disclose the political activities of family members of the group founders, probed the political beliefs of the organizations’ founders, requested membership and donor lists, asked to see copies of internal communications and demanded detailed statements of the groups’ advocacy goals and political objectives.
“We have found a cancer in the office of the IRS in Cincinnati,” admitted Charles Rangel, D–N.Y., noting the investigation could lead to a grand jury examining criminal charges.
“What is intolerable is to have one set of rules for one political organization and another set of rules for another,” Eastman responded, rejecting the suggestion by Democrats on the committee that release of the NOM donor list could be explained by the inadvertent acts of a few rogue agents in the IRS Cincinnati office.
“We must protect the confidentiality that the law provides donors in order to prevent a chilling effect to their political participation,” he said.
The committee's top Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin, said it was time to correct the IRS's problems.
"You are owed an apology," he told the witnesses in his opening statement.
"We say to you that each of us is committed to doing our part to ensure this does not happen again," Levin promised.
However, he went on to advance a common Democratic Party theme, insisting the IRS scandal was being resolved now that acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller has been replaced by Obama administration appointee Dan Werfel and Treasury Secretary Lew has ordered a 30-day review to implement the recommendations in the inspector general’s report.
Counting the suggestion the IRS scandal would be resolved by these measures, several Republican members of the committee asked witnesses for the names of IRS agents who handled their applications for tax-exempt status. The intent is to call the IRS agents to Washington to testify before the committee.
House Ways and Means is one of three congressional committees investigating the IRS targeting of conservative groups. The Justice Department has begun a criminal investigation.
An audit by the inspector general of the Treasury Department found IRS agents in Cincinnati improperly targeted and gave extra scrutiny to conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012.
As WND has reported, the targeting actually happened at IRS offices in a number of cities with guidance coming from Washington. And National Review has reported the IRS is still targeting conservative groups.
Reacting to the testimonies, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., told WND, "These people are victims in my opinion, and what I found most striking in their testimony was the fact that they were just shocked, surprised, amazed. I don't know what other adjectives you could use to describe the feelings they had when the IRS came back with questions."
Reichart, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, gained attention for his dogged questioning of IRS officials at previous hearings in his pursuit for specific people responsible for the IRS policies.
"When you watch Americans come in and testify in a hearing like this and the government is prying into your life to the point the IRS has done in this case, to hear it testified to verbally, out loud by the people affected who were the victims was, I think, absolutely striking today," said Reichert, who believes there are still more conservative groups and donors who have not come forward because they still feel threatened by the government.
Reichert's radio interview with WND's Greg Corombos can be heard below:
Reichert said he is getting information from organizations in his district that simply don't want to call attention to themselves. He asked the attorney for one of Tuesday's witnesses how far-reaching the scandal goes. He said the attorney claimed to have 25 clients now and expected many more to seek counsel.
Democrats had expressed great frustration and outrage at IRS officials last month for failing to remember countless details and not having any idea who was ultimately responsible for this. On Tuesday, the tone changed. Democrats contend there was no political aspect to this IRS policy that can be traced to high-ranking officials. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., lashed out at the tea-party leaders for expecting no scrutiny from the government for their politically related activities, expecting taxpayers to fund their work and offering no suggestions for questions are appropriate. Reichert said McDermott was way off base.
"There's two points really that I think Mr. McDermott was incorrect in," Rechert explained. "The 501(c)(4) contributions are not tax deductible, so no one's looking for a tax deduction when they form the 501(c)4s. People do expect to be held accountable. They expect to answer questions from the IRS regarding their status but not to the degree that these folks testified to.
"Second, this is not about politics. What Mr. McDermott fails to clearly understand here, and I think some of our other Democratic colleagues made similar statements today, is that this is an issue that has already been decided by the Supreme Court. This is the law of the land."
Reichert said Democrats must abide by decisions they don't agree with, just as Republicans have even though they strongly disagree with last year's Obamacare ruling.
He said there really haven't been any major consequences for this abuse of Americans' rights, although he is somewhat encouraged that he and California Rep. Devin Nunes were able to draw several names from the witnesses who were involved in the targeting of conservative groups. Reichert said to expect those figures to be called before Congress soon.