‘The misconduct had stopped in May of 2012,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday about the IRS’s improper targeting of conservative groups. Not so, say two D.C. attorneys, each representing a number of conservative groups that — after years of waiting and countless rounds of invasive questions — have yet to receive recognition from the IRS.
The American Center for Law and Justice, headed by chief counsel Jay Sekulow, plans to file suit in federal court in the coming weeks on behalf of more than two dozen conservative groups that claim their harassment at the hands of the nation’s tax authority continued long past the White House’s purported end date — and, for a number of them, continues still. Of the 27 organizations the ACLJ has represented to date, ten still have not received approval, two years after applying. Two others gave up.
Take the Albuquerque Tea Party. In December 2009, it applied for 501(c)(4) status, which would exempt the group from corporate taxes but does not make donations tax deductible). Its application is still pending — and the group received a letter from the IRS promising its status was “currently being reviewed” just one month ago.
Linchpins of Liberty, a Tennessee-based conservative leadership-development organization, applied to the IRS for tax-exempt status in January 2011. Two years later, their application is still pending as well — and the IRS sent its most recent dilatory letter on May 6 of this year, four days before the agency admitted its political targeting and a full year after the White House claimed the activity had ceased.
Says Sekulow, “Without question, the IRS misconduct of harassing and abusing our clients was still in high gear from May 2012 through May of this year. . . . To suggest this tactic ended a year ago is not only offensive, but it is simply inaccurate as well.”
But the ACLJ is not the only entity still fighting unfair treatment. True the Vote, a nonprofit founded to train poll workers to detect and report voter fraud, filed suit against the IRS in federal court on Tuesday. Nearly three years after filing for tax-exempt status, True the Vote is still waiting for IRS approval. During that period, the group’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, a member of the Houston tea-party group King Street Patriots, saw her family’s manufacturing firm audited by the IRS and visited by OSHA, the ATF, and the FBI.
Cleta Mitchell, the attorney representing True the Vote, says, “The IRS would have everyone believe that ‘all that was stopped in 2012.’ That is not true. Many, many organizations’ applications are still locked within the IRS.”
Before 2010, according to documents provided by Mitchell to National Review Online, her clients seeking 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) exemptions typically received letters of determination within six weeks. Since the IRS changed its review process for conservative applicants in 2010, according to Mitchell’s documents, turning “a system that (prior to 2010) might ask five to six short questions specifically about an application to one that consisted of dozens of questions, necessitating volumes of materials and documents,” those letters took years — if they ever came at all.
And Mitchell, like Sekulow, has evidence that many of the “dozens, if not hundreds” of conservative groups still waiting for approval received additional reams of invasive questions in the fall of 2012 and later. Both Mitchell and the ACLJ have made some of those letters available — letters that requested not just tax-related information but board-meeting minutes, lists of issues important to the organization, social-media posts, employees’ résumés, even the details of content taught in groups’ workshops and seminars.
The White House narrative, parroted by outgoing IRS commissioner Steve Miller to the House Ways and Means Committee that “the problems were resolved last year,” “simply does not square with the facts,” says Sekulow.
Make no mistake, affirms Mitchell: “It is not in the past tense.”
— Ian Tuttle is an intern at National Review.