Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) dismissed a Tea Party leader’s concerns over supposedly being targeted by the Internal Revenue Service, prompting Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to swoop in with a revealing set of questions.
The incident occurred Thursday during a hearing of the House Oversight And Government Reform Committee on the IRS’ alleged targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Testifying before the committee was Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of the King Street Patriots.
During her opening testimony, Engelbrecht recounted the close scrutiny her family and her small business underwent from multiple federal agencies soon after she applied for her group's tax-exempt status, suggesting that the reviews may have been politically motivated.
“After nearly 20 years of being in business,” Engelbrecht, said during the hearing, “and no agency coming to visit with us, the succession of agencies that have now come to us -- for all manner of things -- begs the question.”
“The statistical probabilities of what happened to me happening, without political motivation is staggering,” she added.
An incredulous Connolly took her to task.
“I would just note for the record,” he said, “because we’re so concerned about the law here, and making sure there are no violations of the law, are you aware of the fact that it’s actually illegal for … [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] to give advance notice when it gives inspections? That’s actually a matter of law.”
OSHA visited Engelbrecht’s business soon after she filed an application requesting tax-exempt status for the the King Street Patriots. The OSHA visit resulted in her business being fined roughly $25,000 for various violations, including "the wrong type of safety glasses on an employee" and "the wrong type of seat belt on a forklift."
“I’m not contending that they should’ve given us notice,” she said. “I’m only observing --”
“But you complained about it. You complained that you didn’t get advance notice,” Connolly shot back. “I understand the concern, but you understand that they can’t check in advance to see will you be there.”
“Nor did we try to do anything to discourage that process even though we weren’t on premise,” she said.
“And I absolutely take that at face value,” he continued, “but it’s a huge leap then, given that, to conclude that someone’s out to get you, Ms. Engelbrecht, that there’s any political motivation whatsoever with OSHA following its standard operating procedure.”
Fellow witness Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law, tried to jump in to lend Engelbrecht a hand, but was promptly shut out because he was not being questioned at that time in the hearing.
That’s when Jordan stepped in to make a simple but effective point.
“Ms. Engelbrecht,” Jordan said, “in the first 20 years of business, did OSHA ever visit your place of business?”
“No sir,” she responded.
“After you filed the [tax-exempt application for King Street Patriots], OSHA visited then, right?”
“In the first 20 years of business did the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] ever come to your business?” Jordan continued.
“And they came a couple times once you filed your application?”
“And in your first 20 years of business, did the IRS ever audit you?”
“But once you filed your application, they audited you?”
“And in your first 20 years of business, did the FBI ever visit you?”
“But once you filed your application, did they visit you?”
Jordan made his final point: “Mr. Connolly wants us to believes that’s all a coincidence."
Unamused with Jordan’s line of questioning, an agitated Connolly shot back, insisting that he’s merely looking for evidence of the scrutiny being politically motivated.
“You can believe it’s all a coincidence,” Jordan said. “I refuse to do so.”
“I believe in fact-based, empirical oversight,” Connolly responded. “And innuendo and drawing conclusions and paranoia do not substitute for fact-based, empirical oversight.”
Connolly concluded by muttering the word “McCarthyism”:
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This story has been updated.