In February, The Blaze asked, "Is the Obama administration using the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to wage a war against opposition voices like the Tea Party?" The question centered upon the allegations from numerous conservative groups that the Obama administration is unfairly targeting them in an effort to stifle their speech.
Now, The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is stepping forward to represent nearly 20 Tea Party groups against what they believe to be a coordinated partisan attack. According to the ACLJ, a non-profit legal group that works toward "the ongoing viability of freedom and liberty in the United States and around the world," the IRS asked questions that violate groups' First Amendment free speech and association rights.
"This appears to be a coordinated attempt to intimidate Tea Party organizations by demanding information that is outside the scope of legitimate inquiry and violates the First Amendment," a press release quotes Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ, as saying. "These organizations have followed the law and applied for tax exempt status for their activities as Americans have done for decades."
The groups that are complaining about seemingly controversial questioning were merely applying for for 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) tax exempt status (non-profit organizations and political groups). You can read some sample questions that were sent to the organizations here.
Sekulow goes on to say that the IRS has gone beyond the realm of rationality in seeking information about the internal workings of various organizations. In addition to inquiring about how members are selected, the questions, he says, delve into issues pertaining to the subjects members discuss, among other issues. In what Sekulow dubbs an "intimidation campaign," he makes a comparison to similar actions that the IRS took against the NAACP in the 1950s.
"We will aggressively defend our clients and are prepared to take the IRS to court if necessary," he continues.
And Sekulow may very well know what he's talking about, considering that he served as a trial lawyer in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel early on in his career. In addition to representing those groups who have claimed discrimination, Sekulow will also be urging Congress to engage in oversight on the issue.
Already, the ACLJ claims that 30,000 Americans have joined in to urge Congress to take action. The petition reads, in part:
Tea Party groups are made up of law-abiding citizens who care deeply about this country. They have followed the law and requested tax-exempt status for their activities just like Americans have done for a hundred years. President Obama's IRS appears to be using this as an opportunity to intimidate - to silence - these law-abiding citizens from exercising their fundamental First Amendment rights. Incredibly, the IRS is demanding to know who Tea Party members are, who they associate with, who they talk to, and who they meet with. We respectfully ask that the House of Representatives conduct oversight hearings, investigating these intrusive, and to some threatening IRS tactics, which violate the First Amendment rights of Americans.
The Blaze initially told you last month about the Ohio Liberty Council Corp and the list of questions that it received back from the IRS. As a refresher, here are just a few of the additional items the government wanted (with a two-week deadline for the group to comply):
A hard copy printout of the website – A PDF file emailed to the IRS will not suffice (and this is the high-tech Administration)
List all Social Media outlets being used (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and include hard copy printouts of every posting
A narrative description of every activity of your organization since June 30, 2010 (filing date) – And they do not want a mere description of the event, but full details – including; who conducted it, their qualifications, who was allowed to take part in the activities and how they were selected, was there a fee? (how much)
The IRS also wants to know about the members of the group and their roles and more, asking specifically for the “name, address, and corporate federal ID of all organizations that are members of our organization”
Just weeks later the Kentucky 912 Project issued a press release alleging the same issues.
In a separate letter, the ACLJ made the IRS aware of its representation of the Tea Party organizations.