HOUSTON — For conservatives in the Heartland, it's not debatable: The Internal Revenue Service targeted Tea Party groups, the scrutiny was political and recent revelations about the tax agency have only scratched the surface.
A collection of Tea Party organizations from throughout Texas on Monday joined together on Houston's west side to share their stories and urge Congress — and each other — to keep pressing until the full scope of IRS malfeasance is uncovered and those responsible are punished.
Introduced by the event's headliner, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, activists from Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Waco promised patience and perseverance, contending that most Americans have yet to grasp the full extent of what they've been through.
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"They have to peel the layers of the onion back," said David Durham, 70, a Tea Party activist and member of Houston's King Street Patriots. "I'm prepared to wait."
There was little, if any, displeasure expressed with the progress of the congressional committee investigations of the IRS for targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. There appeared to be a sophisticated understanding on the part of these Texas activists of the deliberate pace of congressional action and the desire of key committee chairmen to avoid political headlines and keep the IRS investigation focused on uncovering facts.
But neither are they standing on the sidelines and leaving the investigation to federal authorities.
Some of the groups targeted by the IRS are filing Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the documents they believe will shed light on the targeting. Tea Party activists are convinced Washington was directly involved in the extra scrutiny they received and point to documents in which a Cincinnati agent said he was awaiting instructions from the nation's capital on whether he could grant TrueTheVote.org tax-exempt status.
TrueTheVote.org, a conservative, Tea Party-affiliated organization, filed suit against the IRS in May, concluding that only the legal discovery process will provide them with the documentation needed to compel the government to cooperate fully and reveal the breadth of information required to shed light on the targeting.
"I think I'm in a unique position to appreciate the complexity of what [Congressional investigators] face," said Catherine Engelbrecht, president of TrueTheVote.org. "I don't disagree that it's going to take time, my prayer is that sometimes we have very short attention spans and there's that risk of taking too long and letting the momentum fade and that's going to be left to the American people."
Engelbrecht told the assembled crowd about the targeting she and her husband endured beginning in July 2010, soon after TrueTheVote.org and King Street Patriots filed for tax-exempt status with the IRS.
Their 20-year-old precision machine manufacturing business, which had never been audited was suddenly being audited. Then, the Engelbrechts' personal income taxes were audited. Their company was investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and was visited by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
King Street Patriots also was visited six times by an FBI domestic terrorism unit, Engelbrecht said, adding that the IRS still hasn't granted either group tax-exempt status.
Her fellow Tea Part activists offered similar stories during Monday's news conference. Cruz said he's created a special email address, IRStarget@cruz.senate.gov, to facilitate the collection of stories for review by his Senate office from people around the country who believe they were targeted.
"When Richard Nixon tried to use the IRS to target his political enemies, it was wrong," Cruz told the crowd. "And when the Obama administration did the same thing, it was just as wrong."