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Watchdog: Accountability

Tea Party groups tell Congress IRS harassment continues

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Politics,Congress,Mark Tapscott,Watchdog,Taxes,Tea Party,IRS,Accountability,Cleta Mitchell

Tea Party officials told a congressional panel Thursday they are still being targeted for harassment despite claims by President Obama and top IRS officials that the illegal activities were stopped last year.

“It's shocking, it's repugnant, it's infuriating,” Becky Gerritson told a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “And most troubling of all, those responsible have not stopped.”

Gerritson is president of the Wetumpka Tea Party Inc. in Wetumpka, Ala. She said IRS officials demanded names of everybody who attended the group's meetings, as well as names of donors, texts of speeches given and biographies of the speakers.

The Wetumpka group applied for 501(c)(4) non-profit status in May 2010 but was not approved until July 2012. The process normally takes only a few months.

Catherine Englebrecht described the government's response to her Houston-based True the Vote group's nonprofit application in 2009 as “the weaponization of government.”

She said she and her husband experienced multiple business and personal tax audits, as well as visits by officials from the FBI, OSHA, ATF and EPA.

Neither she nor her husband had ever before been audited, and their 20-year-old high-tech manufacturing business had no previous OSHA inspections.

“All of these incursions into my affairs began after filing applications for tax exemption,” Englebret said. “There is no other remarkable event, no other reason, to explain away how for decades I went unnoticed but now find myself on the receiving end of inter-agency coordination into and against all facets of my life, both public and private.”

The hearing was the latest round in an intensifying battle between President Obama and House Republicans following a senior IRS official's admission in May 2013 that the tax agency had targeted and harassed more than 200 Tea Party, conservative and evangelical groups during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. Only seven liberal groups were subjected to similar treatment.

Obama initially described the IRS actions as “unacceptable” and promised a full investigation, but more recently he has called the controversy “a phony scandal.”

In an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that was broadcast before last Sunday's Super Bowl activities, Obama said there “isn't a smidgen of evidence” of corruption in the scandal.

Obama's claim was roundly condemned by Cleta Mitchell, a Washington, D.C., attorney who is representing Englebrecht and also testified in the hearing.

Mitchell said Obama was wrong to prejudge the outcome of the investigation he ordered last year because so few of the groups affected by the IRS actions have been interviewed by investigators.

“I have yet to receive a single phone call from anyone in the Department of Justice. None of my clients have received a single contact from the FBI, DOJ or any investigator regarding the IRS scandal,” Mitchell said.

Similarly, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said "simply put, the IRS deceived the public about the extent of its wrongdoing and maintains that deception to this day."

Sekulow's organization represents the Wetumpka Tea Party and 40 other similar groups targeted by the IRS.

Fireworks erupted at one point during the hearing between subcommittee chairman Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, and the panel's top Democrat, Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania.

Cartwright said Democrats were unable to provide a minority witness because they had too little time to prepare for the hearing.

Jordan said the hearing was announced nine days ago and the minority had sufficient time to write him a letter criticizing his request that Justice Department attorney Barbara Bosserman be a witness.

Bosserman is in charge of the joint DOJ/FBI investigation of the IRS scandal. She contributed more than $6,700 between 2008 and 2012 to Obama’s re-election effort and to Democratic campaign committees. She did not testify at the hearing.

In a related development, the House Ways and Means Committee made public a June 14, 2012, email to Lois Lerner, who was then the senior executive overseeing the targeting, and other IRS officials.

The email was written by Ruth Madrigal of the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Policy and described an “off-plan” IRS project for “keeping tabs on C4s.” The “off-plan” reference meant it had not been made public by the IRS. The Daily Caller first reported the email Wednesday.

The email is significant because it appears to contradict IRS claims that a recently proposed rule to “clarify” banned activities by tax-exempt groups was produced in response to a May 14 report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration on the illegal targeting.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of the Washington Examiner.
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Mark Tapscott

Executive Editor
The Washington Examiner