FLASHBACK: Romney donor vilified by Obama campaign, then subjected to 2 audits

Jamie Weinstein | Senior Writer

Just months after being slimed by President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, Mitt Romney supporter and businessman Frank VanderSloot was informed that he was going to be audited not only by the Internal Revenue Service, but by the Labor Department as well.

VanderSloot’s saga was told by columnist Kimberley Strassel in the Wall Street Journal last July.

In April 2012, VanderSloot, who served as the national co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential finance committee, was one of eight Romney backers to be defamed as “wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records” in a post on the Obama campaign’s website. The post, entitled “Behind the curtain: a brief history of Romney’s donors,” singled out VanderSloot for being a “litigious, combative and a bitter foe of the gay rights movement.”

Two months later, the IRS informed VanderSloot he and his wife were going to be audited, Strassel reported. Two weeks after that, VanderSloot was notified by the Labor Department that it was going to “audit workers he employs on his Idaho-based cattle ranch under the federal visa program for temporary agriculture workers,” reported Strassel.

“The H-2A program allows tens of thousands of temporary workers in the U.S.; Mr. VanderSloot employs precisely three,” Strassel wrote. “All are from Mexico and have worked on the VanderSloot ranch—which employs about 20 people—for five years. Two are brothers. Mr. VanderSloot has never been audited for this, though two years ago his workers’ ranch homes were inspected. (The ranch was fined $8,400, mainly for too many ‘flies’ and for ‘grease build-up’ on the stove. God forbid a cattle ranch home has flies.)”

“This letter requests an array of documents to ascertain whether Mr. VanderSloot’s ‘foreign workers are provided the full scope of protections’ under the visa program: information on the hours they’ve worked each day and their rate of pay, an explanation of their deductions, copies of contracts,” she continued.

In her column, Strassel raised the specter that the IRS targeted VanderSloot for his political activism.

“Did Mr. Obama pick up the phone and order the screws put to Mr. VanderSloot?” she asked. “Or—more likely—did a pro-Obama appointee or political hire or career staffer see that the boss had an issue with this donor, and decide to do the president an unasked-for election favor? Or did he or she simply think this was a duty, given that the president had declared Mr. VanderSloot and fellow donors ‘less than reputable’?”

VanderSloot’s tale is more relevant in light of the admission Friday by IRS official Lois Lerner that the agency gave extra scrutiny to non-profit tea party groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their name that applied for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. While Lerner said the agency’s actions were inappropriate, she claimed it was not the result of political bias.

However, a forthcoming report by the IRS inspector general will say that the agency went beyond what Lerner admitted to on Friday by targeting groups which criticized “how the country is being run,” the Washington Post, which got an advanced copy of part of the internal audit, reported Sunday.

Though that practice was soon halted, just months later, in January 2012, groups that applied for tax exempt status which described themselves as “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement” were again subjected to special scrutiny.

On Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was among the congressional leaders who called for an investigation into what went on at the IRS.

“The IRS cannot target or intimidate any individual or organization based on their political beliefs,” he said in a statement. “The House will investigate this matter.”

The White House also voiced support for an investigation.

“The president would expect that it would be investigated,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at the Friday’s press briefing.

While non-profit groups were targeted by the IRS, no hard evidence has yet emerged to show that individuals like VanderSloot were targeted for their political leanings.

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