In wake of the IRS confessions that they targeted tea party groups for heavy scrutinization, the voter ID and restrictive elections group True the Vote are claiming they have been victimized by the federal tax authorities. The IRS apologized Friday for singling out organizations seeking tax-exemption status that had the words “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their names for deep examination into whether those groups were engaging in political campaigning. For some tax-exempt classifications, an organization can not engage in any activity that primarily supports political candidates as they run for office.
True the Vote, which Colorlines reported extensively on last year, was engaged in plenty of work around elections and campaigns, and virtually all of the groups included in their network happen to be “tea party,” “patriot” and “9/12” groups – all conservative organizations that work both within the Republican Party and in support of its causes. And probably because those groups compose the bulk – if not all – of True the Vote’s membership, they are complaining that the IRS unfairly made them jump through hoops when registering as a tax-exempt group.
True the Vote, of course, advocates for voters to jump through hoops by showing proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, and show government-issued photo ID to vote by ballot. And while there were reports of True the Vote intimidating and harassing voters over the last couple of years, their director Catherine Engelbrecht is now accusing the IRS of doing the same thing to her organization. Engelbrecht is telling media that she applied for tax-exempt status over a year ago, and in return, she was probed for documents by not only the IRS but other federal agencies.
“This is what the beginning of tyranny looks like,” Engelbrecht told Breitbart.com. “If such politically-motivated governmental abuses of power can happen to us, they can happen to anyone.”
The IRS officials involved in the tea party-targeting have said that their work was not politically motivated, arguing rather that a high spike in tax-exemption applications while understaffed led to poor decisions. According to The Washington Post, new applications for 501(c)4 tax exempt status went from 1,741 in 2010 to 2,774 in 2012 while the staff of the Exempt Organizations Division fell in the same time period.
Either way, an inspector general report says that the IRS officials used “inappropriate criteria” to decide which applications deserved a closer eye than others. Treasury Sec. Jack Lew said, “While the Inspector General found no evidence that any individual or organization outside the IRS influenced the decision to use these criteria, these actions were inappropriate and did not reflect the high standards which I expect and the public deserves.”
President Obama called the actions “intolerable and inexcusable,” and Attorney General Eric Holder is launching an investigation, as are House and Senate committees in Congress.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn pointed specifically to True the Vote and their alter-ego King Street Patriots as groups targeted by the IRS, as well as the Waco Tea Party. Conservative blogger David Jennings said the Texas-based Clear Lake Tea Party was also targeted. The Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama also complained that it’s tax-exemption application was delayed by the IRS. Attorney Cleta Mitchell of the Foley & Lardner law firm in Wisconsin is representing True the Vote (True the Vote isn’t known for being generous with legal help for the tea party groups it recruits).
But the Houston-based King Street Patriots, which shares leadership and membership with True the Vote, was found liable by a Texas judge for working too close with the Republican Party last year. Also last year, Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, launched his own inquiry into True the Vote’s activities around elections. Groups like Clear Lake Tea Party, Wetumpka Tea Party and dozens of other tea party groups have worked with True the Vote on election matters, as we showed in this map last year.
With all of that in mind, perhaps the tea party groups deserved extra scrutiny, or at least those involved in True the Vote’s political work. The NAACP was under the IRS’s magnifying lens under the Bush Administration; while both Planned Parenthood and NPR were interrogated by Congress for political reasons.
No organization deserves a discriminating eye from the IRS or federal government because of the direction it bends politically. Yet it’s hard to believe that a group like True the Vote shouldn’t get a thorough examination when they are still doing work on behalf of political campaigns and candidates, as seen today with the Rep. Allen West recount in Florida. That’s not what tyranny looks like, that might just be the federal government doing its job.