The Tea Party is fighting fire with ire.
The NorCal Tea Party Patriots, a group based in Colfax, California, has filed the first lawsuit against the IRS for targeting conservative organizations.
The suit says the IRS violated its constitutional rights because of the “intensive and intrusive scrutiny” it received while seeking tax-exempt status. The suit seeks class action status on behalf of other conservative and libertarian groups that were in many cases denied approval of 501(c)(4) tax exempt status for more than 27 months. It also seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages.
Mark Meckler, president and founder of Citizens for Self-Governance and a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest Tea Party groups in the country, announced that its group is “assisting local groups, led by the NorCal Tea Party, in filing class action litigation, which includes requests for damages against the IRS for illegal and harassing behavior in the handling and processing of their applications for non-profit status.”
Meckler told The Fiscal Times Tuesday morning, “We’re hoping to get these groups made whole by this litigation. They spent money, time and energy and were deprived of fundraising capabilities, so they have monetary damages, and we want to see them made whole by the IRS. We also want to see the IRS prohibited from doing these kinds of things in the future…. Congress created the IRS, funds it, provides oversight of the IRS – but Congress and the president brought us to where we are today.”
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Meckler, who held a press conference in Washington this morning about the suit, also told The Fiscal Times, “We can’t count on them to take care of us, so we have to do it ourselves. The great majority of Americans have little faith in the federal government. The Tea Party wants the [American] people to decide [the issues], as locally as possible – while big government Democrats and Republicans want the power to remain in D.C. and the state capitols.”
The lawsuit from the California group, which says it believes in “fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets,” comes shortly after the IRS publicly apologized for targeting conservative groups with extra scrutiny. It also comes as the Senate Finance Committee began its questioning of former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman on Capitol Hill today.
“One of the reasons the IRS is so out of control is that there is no accountability – citizens generally can’t afford to hold them accountable. So we’re helping this local group finance the litigation that no individual group could ever afford to do.”
Meckler says it’s too soon to know the “ultimate cost” of the suit. “I anticipate that over the coming years it will run into the millions. The IRS is well known for stonewalling – and we don’t expect they’re going to be highly cooperative even though they’ve already admitted wrongdoing.”
Meckler says the suit will be very broad. “The IRS has already admitted there’s been roughly 298 groups targeted, but we believe there are many more.” Also, he says there’s evidence of inter-agency involvement. “We have reports of groups being visited by the FBI and by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. So we expect this is going to be very extensive over time.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that the president’s counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, was told on April 24 about the early findings of an IRS audit that indicated tax officials had unfairly targeted Tea Party groups who were applying for tax-exempt status. Carney had said previously, however, that the White House counsel had no details about the IRS query and was simply given a “heads up” that one was in the works.
“People have lost faith in government and its ability to solve things. I think that faith was misplaced and that it’s a big part of the reason why we are where we are,” Meckler told The Fiscal Times. “For too long we’ve looked to government for solutions.”
The lawsuit by NorCal was filed in Cincinnati, home of the field office at the center of the IRS scandal. In the lawsuit, NorCal said it had first sought tax-exempt status in March 2010 but that it did not receive approval for that status until August 2012.
On Tuesday at noon, Tea Party groups met in the center of Cincinnati for a march to the local IRS building. There were other protests and rallies around the country today as well.
“I’m feeling a new surge of interest [in the Tea Party] again – people are angry about the current IRS scandal, and this is non-partisan, interestingly,” says Meckler. “People all over the country have issues with the IRS. But it also has an opposite effect. People are saying they’re scared to go to Tea Party meetings now – because they’re afraid they’ll be targeted or identified by the IRS. Either way, it’s not good that people are scared of their own government.”