Aggrieved conservative groups are fileting the Internal Revenue Service.
Leaders of conservative organizations and the Tea Party aired their grievances to the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday in light of recent revelations that the federal tax collection agency inappropriately targeted such groups 18 months before the 2012 election.
It’s the fifth hearing on the IRS scandal and the second of three Congressional hearings scheduled for this week.
Several of the groups told lawmakers that their applications for tax-exempt status were severely delayed while IRS employees asked them invasive questions—which the organization has since admitted were inappropriate. John Eastman of the National Organization for Marriage said the IRS made public their confidential information about donors.
Kevin Kookogey of Linchpins of Liberty, told the committee that his application for a tax-exempt 501(c)3 status had been delayed for nearly two-and-a-half years. The wait time, he said, up until then was about two to four months. Susan Martinek from the Coalition for Life Iowa, said her organization was asked to have its board members promise they wouldn’t pray, picket or protest outside of Planned Parenthood.
Becky Gerritson of the Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama said it took 635 days for her tax-exempt organization to be approved. She said she was flooded with inappropriate questions, like her list of donors and how much they gave. She told the committee, “501(c)4 organizations do not have to disclose donor information. I know that. Why didn’t” the IRS?
“Using these agencies as a weapon against citizens feels scary and it feels like tyranny,” Gerritson later said.
Karen Kenny of the San Fernando Valley Patriots in California told the committee that her organization was asked about committed violations of local ordinances, breaches of public order and other illegal activity. “We’re the San Fernando Valley Patriots,” she said. “Not Occupy Oakland.” She called the burden of the questioning “extraordinary,” adding she could have “bought stock in Kinkos [because] there were almost 200 pages” of questions.
Eastman, whose group is against gay marriage, told how his group’s confidential tax documents had been given to the Human Rights Campaign, which is for same-sex couples tying the knot. Eastman said the IRS “deliberately provided our donor list to our enemies” which helped “facilitate the intimidation of donors.”
The hearings come as some Republicans, including Rep. Darrell Issa of California, are arguing Washington was involved in the IRS debacle. President Obama has said he was unaware of the IRS’ practices—which led to the resignation of two top officials—until news surfaced last month.
The hearing on Tuesday became heated at one point when Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott told the conservative leaders that what happened to them was wrong, “inept” and “stupid” and likely done by a few mistaken IRS staffers. But he said the events have become political theater and that the IRS does have a legitimate concern in monitoring political activity by tax exempt groups.
“None of your organizations were kept from organizing or silenced. We’re talking about whether or not the American taxpayers will subsidize your work. We’re talking about a tax break,” McDermott said.
“Without oversight, a status meant for charity becomes a machine for political money laundering,” he said, adding “each of your groups are highly political.”
An irked Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin responded to McDermott. The Republican told the conservative groups leaders “You’re to blame –I guess that’s the message here.”
Some Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, are using the IRS controversy as a chance to call for extreme measures, like abolishing the IRS altogether.
There’s likely to be more political drama for the IRS to come. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released a report Tuesday,which shows the agency spent nearly $50 million on more than 200 lavish employee conferences from 2010 to 2012.