By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice has entered into settlements, pending approval by the district courts, in two cases brought by groups whose tax-exempt status was significantly delayed by the Internal Revenue Service based on inappropriate criteria.
The first case, Linchpins of Liberty v. United States, comprised claims brought by 41 plaintiffs, and the second case, NorCal Tea Party Patriots v. Internal Revenue Service, was a class action suit that included 428 members. Attorney General Sessions released the following statement about the cases:
“Chief Justice John Marshall wrote ‘that the power to tax involves the power to destroy … [is] not to be denied.’ And it should also be without question that our First Amendment prohibits the federal government from treating groups differently based solely on their viewpoint or ideology,” AG Sessions said. “But it is now clear that during the last Administration, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to screen applications for 501(c) status. These criteria included names such as ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Patriots,’ or ‘9/12’ or policy positions concerning government spending or taxes, education of the public to ‘make’ America a better place to live,” or statements criticizing how the country was being run. It is also clear these criteria disproportionately impacted conservative groups.”
“As a result of these criteria, the IRS transferred hundreds of applications to a specifically designated group of IRS agents for additional levels of review, questioning and delay. In many instances, the IRS then requested highly sensitive information from applicants, such as donor information, that was not needed to make a determination of tax-exempt status,” Sessions continued. “The IRS’s use of these criteria as a basis for heightened scrutiny was wrong and should never have occurred. It is improper for the IRS to single out groups for different treatment based on their names or ideological positions. Any entitlement to tax exemption should be based on the activities of the organization and whether they fulfill requirements of the law, not the policy positions adopted by members or the name chosen to reflect those views.”
“There is no excuse for this conduct. Hundreds of organizations were affected by these actions, and they deserve an apology from the IRS. We hope that today’s settlement makes clear that this abuse of power will not be tolerated,” Sessions said.
One of the groups most wronged by the IRS was the Wetumpka Tea Party.
Wetumpka Tea Party founder and president, Becky Gerritson, told the Alabama Political Reporter, “This is A HUGE win for us! The IRS has admitted that they did target conservative groups. This is a declaratory judgement and holds weight as we can now hold the IRS accountable and we can monitor IRS activities in the future.”
The chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement, “The IRS admits that its treatment of Plaintiffs during the tax-exempt determinations process, including screening their applications based on their names or policy positions, subjecting those applications to heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays, and demanding of some Plaintiffs’ information that TIGTA determined was unnecessary to the agency’s determination of their tax-exempt status, was wrong. For such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology.”
“As we have previously detailed, in March of 2012 we began being contacted by literally dozens of Tea Party and conservative groups who were being harassed by the Obama IRS after submitting applications for tax-exempt status,” Sekulow said. “Their tax-exempt applications were held up for years (over seven years in some cases), and they began receiving obtrusive and unconstitutional requests for donor and member information. That began a now more than five and a half year fight with the burgeoning bureaucracy at the IRS. Then on May 10, 2013, Lois Lerner, the then head of the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations Division, publicly implicated the IRS in one of the worst political targeting scandals of the century.”
Sessions said that his department’s commitment to ensuring that the “abuse of power” in which the IRS engaged here “will not be tolerated.”
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of this victory. This marks the end of a years-long fight for justice in defense of the constitutional rights of our clients. This is an extraordinary victory against the IRS. And it sends a powerful warning to the deep state bureaucracy that it will not be allowed to violate the Constitution in order to silence and shut down the conservative agenda,” Sekulow concluded.
In 2010, the Tea Party formed to oppose President Barack Obama’s healthcare proposal – what became known as Obamacare. Congress passed the legislation, and the Tea Party became a grassroots Republican wave that led to the GOP seizing control of the House of the Representatives and severely narrowing the Democrats’ then majority in the U.S. Senate, and Obama’s re-election seemed unlikely.
The IRS then allegedly formed a special squad to make group’s like Becky Gerritson’s give up huge quantities of information to the government, while denying many of the groups non-profit status. The squad, headed by Lois Lerner, was never prosecuted by the Department of Justice, then headed by Obama’s close friend, Eric Holder. The Tea Party never regained its momentum, and Obama was re-elected.