The American Center for Law and Justice on Tuesday declared victory over the Internal Revenue Service – at least for one of its clients – after a Washington state group with “tea party” in its name was approved by the federal agency to receive tax-exempt status as a lobbying organization.
It took seven years.
The group approved, Tri-Cities Tea Party, had requested permission in 2010 to operate as a 501(c)(4) organization. The Obama administration was embroiled in a scandal over instructions to IRS agents to harass and obstruct “tea party,” Christian and other conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
“No group of citizens, whether conservative or liberal, should ever have their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech or the freedom of association infringed by a targeting scheme by a government agency. No group should be forced to wait more than seven years to receive a determination on their request for tax-exempt status,” said the ACLJ, which represented the Washington state group.
“This is a significant victory – just days before Tax Day. But this issue is not over. We are still fighting on behalf of Tri-Cities and other clients to see that they receive justice and those responsible for this unconstitutional targeting scheme are held accountable.”
The legal team explained the “bureaucratic nightmare” started when the organization first contacted the IRS to file its 501(c)(4) application in March 2010.
“The IRS did little or nothing with respect to the submitted application for approximately six months,” the report said. “Then Tri-Cities got a lengthy list of additional questions.
Then another 15 months dragged by.
“The IRS,” the ACLJ report said, “was in no rush. In fact, it was intentionally dragging its heels, keeping another conservative group from obtaining the tax-exempt status it deserved. This was common practice with many of our clients. Months and even years would go by with no response from the IRS. The intrusive questions and delay after delay were all tactics used by the IRS as part of their unconstitutional targeting scheme.”
Obama’s IRS sent another round of questions nearly two years after the application was filed: Twenty-seven questions with 28 subparts.
Eight months later, the IRS admitted that it really didn’t need that information.
But still no resolution.
“Eventually, Tri-Cities retained the ACLJ to help it determine the appropriate way to respond to the continuing onerous demands of the IRS. At this point, however, the IRS seemed content to allow Tri-Cities to languish in a black hole of uncertainty,” the legal team said.
“Even with our representation, Tri-Cities continued to be ignored entirely by the IRS for months on end, and they expanded this practice by ignoring our communications on behalf of our clients.”
It was in 2013 when Lois Lerner, then the director of the Exempt Organizations Unit of the IRS, admitted publicly that the IRS had been targeting conservative, Christian and tea-party groups, and the ACLJ sued on behalf of dozens of organizations from more than 20 states.
The IRS, after being told to resolve the Tri-Cities issues, tried to do so by denying its members permission to participate in the process.
However, the ACLJ said, that determination now has been set aside, and the original application approved.
While the IRS targeting scandal was just one of several dozen major controversies to plague the Obama administration, it was one of the more egregious, as the official weight of government power bludgeoned activist groups that wanted to participate in the political process.
Judicial Watch, the Washington watchdog that has for years been fighting to access IRS documents that reveal the extent of its discriminatory actions against Christians and conservatives, has asked President Trump to consider criminal counts against the much-feared federal agency.
“President Trump needs to reopen the criminal investigation of the IRS as soon as he is sworn into office,” said Tom Fitton, the president of the organization, before the inauguration.
Investigations have revealed that the IRS agents would deliberately delay issuing a decision on organizations that were in conflict with Obama’s agenda. That meant they couldn’t obtain tax-exempt status, and they couldn’t even appeal.
Among the IRS strategies was to ask inappropriate questions, such as what was the content of members’ prayers.
The IRS also was found to have been making inappropriate demands – such as that a conservative group denounce opposition to Planned Parenthood’s abortion agenda.
Multiple lawsuits resulted, and some of those organizations have yet to get a decision from the federal agency. Cases still are under way.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled at one point that the IRS “did, in fact, discriminate against tea party groups.”
“We have seen a deliberate and systematic effort by the IRS to delay, deflect and deceive Congress in its effort to hold those responsible for this unlawful targeting scheme accountable,” said ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow at the time.