The Internal Revenue Service campaign to target the political speech of conservative groups has been going on not since the 2012 election campaign, which has been documented abundantly, but since only months after President Obama first took office, claims a non-profit legal advocacy group.
The Thomas More Society of Chicago said it’s been fighting the feared federal agency on behalf of clients since 2009.
“For at least four years, discrimination against pro-life and conservative groups by the IRS was taking place under the direction of Lois Lerner,” said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society.
“It is high time that a detailed investigation be conducted, and it is our hope that it will not only uncover but also help remedy the corruption within the government office of Internal Revenue Service,” Brejcha said.
WND reported last week that the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was focusing on Lerner, the former director of tax-exempt organizations at the IRS, as the culprit in the administration scandal targeting conservative organizations.
The committee is preparing the path for a vote to censure Lerner for taking the Fifth Amendment a second time after initially agreeing to testify at a committee hearing March 5, according to a the 141-page report.
The Thomas More Society said that in both May and August of 2013, it gave the House Committee on Ways and Means detailed memos totaling more than 500 pages with “evidence and documentation of six different groups that had experienced viewpoint-biased discrimination by the IRS, dating back to 2009.”
The organization said its memos included the details of the problems several pro-life organizations had after they applied for 501(c)3 status, including “blatant bias on the part of the IRS agents assigned to process their applications.”
The Thomas More Society said the pro-life groups repeatedly “were harassed with questions about time spent in prayer at abortion facilities and told that they must educate and advocate on abortion from both sides of the issue.”
“Several Thomas More Society clients – all pro-life organizations – experienced significant delays with their tax exemptions under Lois Lerner’s watch, through ‘exemption organization specialists’ who refused to apply tax-exempt law correctly until legal counsel got involved,” the society reported.
Sally Wagenmaker, counsel to the Thomas More Society and a specialist in non-profit issues, said in a special report that the IRS appeared to thumbing its nose at U.S. Supreme Court precedent in its actions.
“The court imposed an objective test that affirmed broad freedom of expression: ‘A court should find that an ad is the functional equivalent of express advocacy only if the ad is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.’ Accordingly, the court instructed that the focus should be on the substance of the communication at issue, not ‘amorphous considerations of intent and effect.’ In doing so, the court specifically rejected ‘the open-ended rough-and-tumble factors that could invite complex arguments.’ Furthermore, the court held that any information about the speech’s context is constitutionally irrelevant, such as its timing in relation to any election or the speech’s relevance to election issues,” she said.
The bottom line, she said, is that Americans with real concerns were stifled by the Obama administration.
“Given the specter of losing (or not getting) tax-exempt status as a result of IRS scrutiny, the inevitable logical result is that nonprofit organizations will err on the side on not engaging in potentially controversial activities. The upshot is that speech is chilled, applications are delayed, and – as our country recently learned all too clearly – the IRS is allowed to abuse its discretion,” Wagenmaker’s report said.
A new proposal from the IRS that would embed in the law its discriminatory behavior goes too far, the Thomas More Society said.
“It would behoove the IRS to abandon their new, proposed regulations,” said Brejcha. “Instead, they should pull back from undue political scrutiny of tax-exempt organizations and leave that job to the Federal Election Commission.”
WND earlier reported the House committee concluded Lerner “was keenly aware of acute political pressure to crack down on conservative-leaning organizations.”
“Not only did she seek to convey her agreement with this sentiment publicly, she went so far as to engage in a wholly inappropriate effort to circumvent federal prohibitions in order to publicize her efforts to crack down on a particular tea party applicant,” the committee said.
“She created unprecedented roadblocks for tea party organizations, worked surreptitiously to advance new Obama Administration regulations that curtail the activities of existing 501(c)(4) organizations – all the while attempting to maintain an appearance that her efforts did not appear, in her own words, ‘per se political.’”
Some citizens, however, have made it clear they’ve had enough.
A lawsuit filed in Ohio by an organization called Sue the IRS seeks monetary damages or violating the Privacy Act, complying with additional demands for information about an application, loss of donors, loss of membership fees, damages for the violation of constitutional rights, damages for loss of the benefit of tax-exempt status, damages for impairment of constitutionally protected rights, punitive damages, litigation costs and more.”
The suit is spearheaded by Mark Meckler of Citizens for Self-Governance, who formerly was with the Tea Party Patriots. His group’s mission to restore self-governance to America by connecting “warriors in order to take power away from big government and the big money that influences it … and return the power to its rightful owners, the people.”
Meckler said the government has been trying to get rid of the case.
“The interesting thing to me is the federal government … making allegations that Americans have no right of recourse when government targets them and tries to prevent them from speaking,” he said.
The right of recourse, he said, is fundamental to what America is about.
Meckler’s complaint charges that “elements within the executive branch of the federal government, including defendants, brought the vast powers, incomprehensible complexity, and crushing bureaucracy of the IRS to bear on groups of citizens whose only wrongdoing was their presumed dissent from the policies or ideology of the administration.”
“In other words, these citizens were targeted based upon their political viewpoints.”