Lawyers: Targeting of conservatives more vast than just Cincinnati, also involved DC office

Caroline May | Reporter

Lawyers representing Tea Party groups are disputing the Internal Revenue Service’s claim that the discrimination against Tea Party and conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status was initiated by low-level employees at an IRS office in Cincinnati.

According to the lawyers, the practice was more vast and included IRS officials in Washington, D.C.

David French, senior counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents 27 Tea Party groups, told The Daily Caller that the IRS’ Cincinnati office was not the only unit targeting Tea Party and conservative groups for increased scrutiny.

“We’ve dealt with two offices in California, the one in Cincinnati of course, and one in Washington, D.C. So when that story came out on Friday, we knew instantaneously it was false, because we had personal dealings with four different IRS offices from coast to coast and that was in connection with our representing 27 Tea Party groups and conservative groups in 19 states,“ French said, adding that the two California offices were located in Laguna Niguel and El Monte.

“We knew from the beginning that this was not just a low-level Cincinnati employee operation,” French said.

Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP who represents conservative groups, echoed French’s concerns and experience.

“That’s a cover-up,” she told TheDC of the IRS’ claim Friday that the practice was initiated by the Cincinnati unit of the IRS.

Mitchell also said there were offices in Washington and California that gave her clients issues.

“I was told and one of my clients was told that it really didn’t matter where your application was pending, it was all being run out of Washington,” she said, adding that she heard that more than once.

In a letter to the IRS Friday, Mitchell called on the IRS to identify all the employees involved in the strategy to target conservative groups.

“[T]his experience was too widespread to be the result of a few ‘low level’ individuals acting on their own. Rather, the burdensome questions and exhaustive reviews — and the extreme delays in processing applications for exempt status were and continue to be too comprehensive and involved more than one IRS office, including the IRS offices in Washington DC, to be considered ‘isolated,’” she wrote.

“The fact that nearly 100 citizens groups received identical, burdensome questionnaires from IRS offices across the nation demonstrates that this was not a few ‘low level’ employees responsible for the effort,” she continued. “And, indeed, more than one agent in Cincinnati has advised me that his/her instructions regarding the processing of my ‘Tea Party’ related organization client(s) were coming from the Washington, DC office.”

“So my question is: How can you claim that this illicit strategy employed against conservative, patriotic Americans was a low level employee effort in the Cincinnati office when agents over the past several years have advised me that the directions were coming from a special task force established in the Washington offices of the IRS and when the letters and mistreatment was not confined to applicants dealing with the Cincinnati office?” she further questioned in her letter.

Indeed, as TheDC has reported, a number of Tea Party groups are still waiting to hear back from the IRS, some after years of waiting.

The ACLJ sent a letter to the IRS Monday demanding that the 10 Tea Party groups (out of 27 Tea Party groups) they represent that have not yet received tax-exempt status receive a response by May 17th or face possible legal action.

“This is an abuse, that this is ongoing,” French said, “and that is the subject of our demand letter. It has got to stop. Some in the media have been treating this as if it is over and done with — that the IRS did something bad a year ago or did something bad two years ago and hasn’t done it since. Well, no. As long as they are holding up multiple organizations and still seeking information by unconstitutional means, it’s an ongoing issue.”

The IRS did not repond to requests for comment.

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