Opinion

Matthew Clark: Tea Party message to the IRS: See you in court

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Tea Party,IRS

Claims that the Internal Revenue Service's intentional targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups was not politically motivated are truly outrageous and should concern all Americans.

Unbelievably, in his congressional testimony on Friday, the acting commissioner of the IRS, Steve Miller, repeatedly refused to admit that his agency "targeted" conservative groups.

Yet "targeted" was precisely the term used by the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration in both his congressional testimony and his report released this past Tuesday.

The IRS itself admitted to intentionally targeting conservative groups and said it targeted them because they "criticize how the country is being run" -- because they are conservative.

The IG report on the burgeoning IRS scandal confirms that "all cases with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names were" targeted by the IRS for "unnecessary, burdensome" inquiry through at least "May 2012."

The IG testified that he found this intentional targeting was "based on policy positions" held by these groups. You can't intentionally target conservative groups for being conservative and call it anything but politically motivated.

As more details emerge that liberal and progressive groups applying for tax-exempt status during the same time period were quickly approved when compared with the nearly two years or more of wait time for conservative groups with similar structures, the political nature of this scandal is all too apparent.

While issuing its so-called apology for intentionally targeting conservative groups for onerous and unconstitutional inquiries, the IRS also claimed that the scrutiny has stopped and that the targeting was limited to "low-level" IRS agents in a single Cincinnati office.

And now the most recent assertion from the IRS is that this scheme was concocted by a couple of rogue employees out of that office. However, these claims simply do not square with the facts.

At the American Center for Law and Justice, or ACLJ, we have represented 27 of these targeted conservative groups, and not only have our clients received inquiry demand letters from IRS offices coast to coast demanding answers to unconstitutional questions, we also have proof that these inquiries continued as recently as last week.

Going back to 2010, our clients received these admittedly targeted letters from IRS offices in Washington, El Monte, Calif., and Laguna Niguel, Calif., as well as the now infamous Cincinnati office.

These onerous demand letters continued to be received in 2012 at the height of a contentious presidential election, well after senior IRS officials were aware of the illegal targeting.

Many of these letters demanded unconstitutionally intrusive information from conservative groups, including donor lists, member resumes and more, as the IG report confirms.

It is also now clear that the IRS targeting went well beyond just organizations with "Tea Party" or "patriot" in the name, but extended to a whole range of conservative groups.

Even pro-Israel Jewish groups were singled out. This was a systematic targeting of conservative groups, spanning at least two contentious election cycles -- and should be alarming to citizens of all political persuasions.

The IRS now claims it has stopped this unlawful activity and promises it "will not recur." Yet the IG report emphatically states, "We disagree." The inspector general is exactly right. The abuse is ongoing.

The IRS has refused to respond to a letter sent this past week from the ACLJ demanding that it immediately cease this abuse of power and grant the tax-exempt status of 10 of our clients whose applications are still being held up in this admittedly inappropriate targeted inquiry process.

The ACLJ is preparing to file a federal lawsuit this coming week against the IRS, the Department of the Treasury and other government officials on behalf of numerous conservative groups.

The IRS is supposed to be a safeguard against partisan politics, but instead, it has succeeded in stifling freedom of speech under the color of law.

In the face of bipartisan outrage, acting Commissioner Miller's assertion to Congress that the IRS targeting was merely "horrible customer service" is atrocious.

The IRS' actions are a Draconian abuse of government power and smack of McCarthyism. This was a direct and targeted assault on the constitutional rights of conservative citizen-led groups -- American citizens.

Matthew Clark is associate counsel for government affairs and media advocacy with the American Center for Law and Justice.

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