WASHINGTON – Just 24 hours before the Tea Party Patriots would testify before Congress, the IRS finally granted the group its 501(c)(4) status, but the agency continues to stifle the political freedom of 17 similar organizations by being unresponsive to their status requests.
The Tea Party Patriots first applied for nonprofit status three years ago.
Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin received the news Wednesday, just before she was to appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been investigating IRS targeting of conservative and tea-party groups.
“To me, it may be an attempt to undermine testimony in the next couple weeks,” said Jordan Sekulow, lead council for the American Center for Law and Justice, or ACLJ.
The ACLJ is currently engaged in litigation against the IRS and key officials on behalf of 41 conservative groups from 22 states, 17 of which have yet to receive 501(c)(4) status.
Some say the timing of the IRS was suspect.
A Tea Party Patriots attorney got the IRS call less than a day before Thursday’s midnight commenting deadline on proposed restrictions that gag political speech. The IRS claimed the rule changes provide greater clarity in what activity is allowed in nonprofit organizations. But critics allege it is an assault on free speech and association that would essentially codify the brutal treatment aimed at conservative organizations over the past few years.
Administration officials remained very quiet publicly about the suggested rule changes, but more than 140,000 comments were filed in response to the plan.
“This demonstrates two things – the IRS appears to be following congressional committee testimony, making decisions based on press they may receive, and as a result is trying to rewrite the guidelines on 501(c)(4) statuses,” Sekulow said.
“Why grant the status the day before testimony? It reeks of more wrongdoing and the fact that the IRS isn’t capable of self-correcting,” he said. “It was a good thing they got status, but the way it was done.”
Sekulow said he thinks the IRS is starting to backtrack because officials are realizing they completely overstepped their bounds, and the new IRS leadership is trying to correct course.
Martin – along with an attorney from the left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union, the vice president of government relations for the American Motorcycle Association and three other organizations – testified before the House committee in a hearing to further investigate how the proposed regulations would “intimidate and silence grassroots public interest organizations.”
Sekulow said the proposed guidelines received more comments than any other guidelines posted on Regulations.gov, and many came from the left. Democratic Party senators said the rules should be rewritten because, as they stand now, nonprofit groups “could be shut down totally.” They argued the guidelines should be “very limited.”
However, tea-party organizations are suing for 100 percent of their freedom from the regulations because, as Martin testified, micromanaging the daily activities of 501(c)(4)s would “gut our ability to direct financial resources to grassroots groups” and cost taxpayers millions of dollars to enforce the regulations.
Martin said her testimony focused on the time and money the regulations would cost taxpayers if approved and the violation of the First Amendment, not on the “specific” fact that Tea Party Patriots had been targeted with added scrutiny and long delays.
“The most disgusting part of regulations is that we would have to report all of the money you choose to contribute as volunteers,” she said at the five-year anniversary event. “At which point do people quit being volunteers for the organization and become free citizens of the United States?”
According to Martin’s testimony, the proposed regulations would eliminate citizen power to conduct voter education and registration, including “hosting or conducting an event within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days within a general election. They also would require 501(c)(4) organizations to scrub their website of any mention of political candidates or their voting activities on issues such as the Affordable Care Act and federal spending.
“It is astounding that the government would seek to silence this exercise by citizens of their fundamental right to learn and share information regarding candidates’ views on issues of the day,” Martin said in her testimony.
“When the people are afraid of a government agency, when they see an agency as a bunch of bullies who abuse power, their trust is shattered. Free people should not fear a politicized bureaucracy that delves into their social media and communications to determine what they said,” she said.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the group’s tax-exempt status was withheld for three years because Tea Party Patriots is an “effective” conservative group. He compared the IRS regulations to “putting federal agents in news broadcast rooms,” referencing the federal government’s recent attempt to monitor U.S. media.
Sekulow said nonprofit tax guidelines stipulate that the waiting time for status acceptance cannot exceed a year, so the groups “met the standards, and apparently the IRS is trying to rewrite the rules.”
But he said that’s nothing new.
“Obama’s half-brother got approval for his organization’s nonprofit status within 30 days while these [tea-party organizations] waited three years, and many are still waiting,” Sekulow said.
The Barack H. Obama Foundation received an approval letter signed by former IRS chief Lois Lerner within 30 days of applying for status – an unprecedented timeline that stands in stark contrast to the guidelines the IRS is proposing.
The foundation operated outside the bounds of the very same regulations that the IRS is requiring of 501(c)(4) nonprofits, according to an official complaint filed in May 2011 against the IRS by the National Legal and Policy Center.
As WND reported, Lerner also broke with norms and granted retroactive tax-exemption status.
The complaint inquired about why Malik Obama’s organization, which has ties to the terrorist group Hamas, was being allowed to solicit tax-deductible contributions when it had not even applied for IRS determination.
“The proposed rules create cracks in the trust that is the foundation of our nation,” Martin said. “A government of the people, by the people, for the people must trust the people, and the people must trust the government.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ordered Lerner – who retired from the IRS in September – to appear before the hearing next week. She has agreed to testify about the IRS’ handling of tea-party cases, but only in exchange for immunity.
See the IRS letter to the Obama Foundation: