A representative of the Internal Revenue Service has issued a verbal apology to a number of Tea Party groups that were asked an unusually complex set of questions to justify their non-profit status.
In early 2012, a number of groups affiliated with the Tea Party complained that the IRS was requesting an enormous amount of detailed information as it considered their tax exempt status. In February of that year, Fox News reported on the concerns.
In letters sent from IRS offices in Cincinnati earlier this month, chapters including the Waco (Texas) Tea Party and the Ohio Liberty Council were asked to provide a list of donors, identify volunteers, financial support for and relationships with political candidates and parties, and even printed copies of their Facebook pages.
"Some of what they (the IRS) asked was reasonable, but there were some requests on there that were strange," Toby Marie Walker, president of the Waco Tea Party told FoxNews.com. "It makes you wonder if they do this to groups like ACORN or other left-leaning groups.”
Apparently not. During a conference earlier today, Lois Lerner, the IRS staffer in charge of non-profit designations, apologized for the unusual request, according to the AP. Lerner said that "low-level workers" in Cincinnati began additional reviews of organizations that included "tea party" or "patriot" in their names.
Update: In a report at The New York Times, Lerner's statement is more thoroughly explained. It in fact wasn't only the Tea Party that was being looked at — but only Tea Party groups were singled out simply based on elements of their names.
Between 2010 and 2012, applications for 501(c)(4) tax exemptions nearly doubled, to more than 2,400. As the agency has done in the past, it centralized the processing of that surge at its Cincinnati office, where about 300 were flagged for further examination.
Staff members at that office singled out the terms “Tea Party” and “patriot,” she said, but not out of political bias; it was “just their shortcut.” Only about a quarter of the 300 cases flagged for scrutiny were Tea Party-related, she said, but she called the singling out of those groups “absolutely inappropriate and not the way we should do things.”
At the time of the groups' initial complaints, some lawyers explained why additional reviews might be warranted.
"These tea party groups, a lot of their material makes them look and sound like a political party," said Marcus S. Owens, a lawyer who advises tax-exempt organizations and who spent a decade heading the IRS division that oversees such groups. "I think the IRS is trying to get behind the rhetoric and figure out whether they are, at their core: a political party," or a group that would qualify for tax-exempt status.
As the AP notes in its brief story on the apology, non-profits can engage in a limited amount of political activity.
The Blaze reported on some of the questions the IRS asked of a group in Ohio, as detailed by the group.
- A hard copy printout of the website
- List all Social Media outlets being used (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and include hard copy printouts of every posting
- A narrative description of every activity of your organization since June 30, 2010 (filing date) – And they do not want a mere description of the event, but full details – including; who conducted it, their qualifications, who was allowed to take part in the activities and how they were selected, was there a fee?
- The IRS also wants to know about the members of the group and their roles and more, asking specifically for the “name, address, and corporate federal ID of all organizations that are members of our organization”
A search of the IRS database indicates that at least three organizations did receive tax exempt status: Chestertown Tea Party Festival Inc. in Maryland, Tea Party Magazine in San Francisco, and Ellas Tea Party in Phoenix.
Members of the Tea Party — the name of which is often said to be an acronym for "taxed enough already" — embrace the principle that the size of government should be reduced. Today's developments are unlikely to weaken that belief.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.