During a 2009 commencement address at Arizona State University, President Obama joked that he’d send the IRS after those who didn’t see eye-to-eye with him. For over 100 tea party groups, his comments are not amusing; they are a reality.
The tea party has had a profound impact on the national political debate, bringing the size and scope of the federal government to the forefront of the American dialogue. As voters increasingly connect with the tea party’s values, President Obama and Democrats have grown concerned about the movement’s grassroots energy. In a “Chicago style” attempt to smother the movement before the 2012 election, the Obama administration is using the IRS to attack tea party groups.
The Waco Tea Party submitted an application for tax-exempt status in 2010. Nearly two years after the IRS’s 90-day response window elapsed, the group finally received a reply — a list of over 50 demands. The three-year-old organization was asked to compile every Facebook post and tweet it had ever produced. It was told to submit transcriptions of its weekly radio show — a request that would cost $25,000 to comply with, more than twice the group’s annual budget. It was ordered to explain any “close relationships” with candidates. And when the Waco Tea Party asked the IRS to clarify “close relationship” and “candidate,” the IRS replied, “Send us everything.”
To make the demands even more egregious, the over 30,000 pages of demanded information was to be compiled in just 14 days.
The Waco Tea Party is not alone. While liberal organizations have been given a fast pass through the tax-exempt application process, hundreds of freedom-fighting groups have received these intrusive questionnaires, which consume time and money that could otherwise be used to protect constitutional liberties.
The IRS has demanded that an Ohio group produce a synopsis of each book it has recommended to members, along with the authors’ names, the books’ titles and details about the authors’ relationships with a local conservative activist.
Obama’s IRS has requested that a Kentucky group release information about its board’s family members — if they intend to run for office, if they have started up similar groups, if they have ever applied for a tax-exempt status.
From others, the IRS has demanded sensitive information about leaders’ resumes, donors, groups’ future plans and whether any board members are thinking about running for political office.
The IRS says it’s issuing these questionnaires to investigate whether the primary — not sole — purpose of these tea party groups is to promote social welfare, but the inquiries have dug deep into the personal lives of tea party leaders and their families.
Marcus Owens, the former chief of the IRS’s tax exemption unit, told Roll Call that the extensiveness of the IRS’s inquiries is “an overreach.”
Some members of Congress have begun to question the legality of these demands.
Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander recently said, “The government should not have what amounts to an enemies list based on what people or organizations say or believe.”
Given the true grassroots nature of the tea party, independent groups do not have the financial or human resources to properly fight back. By abusing the IRS’s authority, the Obama administration is suppressing the movement’s freedom of speech.
This is a dangerous precedent to set — and it should concern all Americans, whether someone’s a tea partier or not. As Tom Zawistowski, the executive director of the Portage County Tea Party, put it, “This is the kind of personal information that this government is going to be demanding from your church, your doctor, your hospital, your business and your favorite charity going forward.”
The tea party will fight back.
We have joined with Zawistowski and other conservative activists to launch ProtectTheTeaParty.com and form the Liberty Defense Foundation, an alliance created of, by and for the grassroots tea party movement that is meant to serve as a resource for the IRS’s tea party targets.
Obama’s IRS is unfairly working to shut down tea party groups or — at the very least — force successful organizations to turn their attention away from the important issues they fight for every day.
The movement’s voice will not be left unheard. We will take on the Obama administration, fight against its attempts to confiscate our First Amendment rights, push back against administration officials’ demands for us to send them everything, protect the tea party and ensure that all Americans can take advantage of their constitutional liberties.
Eric Wilson is the director of the Kentucky 9/12 Project, and Toby Marie Walker is the lead facilitator of the Waco Tea Party. Both groups have been involved with the IRS’s proceedings and are founding board members of the Liberty Defense Foundation (www.ProtectTheTeaParty.com).