True the Vote is not only suing the IRS, but also taking action against the IRS employees who participated in the harassment of the voter education and election monitoring organization. Those employees could personally be held liable to pay damages that would be established in litigation.
True the Votes’ lead counsel, Cleta Mitchell, explained in an email to The Daily Caller that she does not know whether the employees, if found to be liable in the lawsuit True the Vote filed against the IRS and its employees Tuesday, would pay out of pocket or take other avenues such as accessing union funds or homeowners insurance. Either way, she noted, the group will pursue its action.
“[T]heir unlawful actions caused my clients to have to come up with the money to deal with their demands…out of their own personal finances… They didn’t seem to worry / care about that,” Mitchell wrote to TheDC. “Government employees never do care about the costs to private citizens of their burdensome demands….”
Founder and president of True the Vote Catherine Engelbrecht explained in a conference call Thursday morning that in July of 2010 her organization filed an application for tax exemption. The request has been in limbo since then.
“During that time we have been subjected to multiple rounds of questions, all told I would say in excess of several hundred questions and thousands of documents provided back to the IRS,” she said. “With no real end in sight.”
After her organization’s most recent round of questions following the November 2012 elections, Engelbrecht said that she and Mitchell began discussing other legal options.
“That ultimately led us to a place where we felt like we had no other options but to file suit against the IRS and to ask the courts to now get involved to grant our long-awaited tax exempt status,” she said adding she also hoped to reveal the IRS employees’ involvement in her organization’s plight.
True the Vote filed a lawsuit against the IRS and some of its employees on Tuesday.
Mitchell explained that she and Engelbrecht had been discussing suing the IRS to obtain tax-exempt status even before the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released his report on the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups.
“An applicant for 501(c)(3) status is allowed under federal law to go to court if the IRS has not issued a letter of determination within 270 days, so we were well past that deadline,” she said.
Mitchell said that they have also added charges to the complaint seeking to address the potential violation of a federal statute that prohibits IRS employees from unauthorized inspection or dissemination of confidential taxpayer information.
“It is our claim, in the suit, that by virtue of the IRS’ demand and receipt of confidential information from True the Vote, which was not necessary for purposes of ascertaining whether or not the organization qualifies for exempt status, that that constitutes an unlawful inspection of True the Votes’ proprietary information as a taxpayer,” Mitchell said, adding that they are seeking $1,000 per unlawful inspection, but do not yet know how many unlawful inspections the IRS made.
The third charge True the Vote is pursuing against the IRS is a claim for a redress of True the Vote’s constitutional right to free speech and association under the First Amendment.
“That violation of our Constitutional rights does constitute a civil rights claim, we are arguing, and we have sued these IRS agents and employees not only in their official capacities but in their individual and personal capacities for engaging in this conspiracy to violate True the Vote’s rights,” she said.
Mitchell explained that through this lawsuit they hope to get real answers.
“We hope to get through discovery the answers to the questions of what they were doing, why they were doing it, who was doing it, and by naming these individual agents assigned to True the Vote’s case or application, we’ll find out who told them what it was that they were supposed to be doing,” she added.
“Once the IRS denies an application then you have the remedy to take that denial to federal court and have it reviewed by the court and either affirmed or overturned. But just holding all these 501(c)(4) organizations’ applications in limbo, it denied the groups the opportunity to go to court and have the court sort it out. So all the 501(c)(4) organizations, and there were hundreds of them, are still sitting out there. Those applications have not been granted for most of the organizations who applied since this unlawful process was put in place by the IRS, so this is not in the past tense,” she said.
Anyone whose name True the Vote knew, who had potentially touched the group’s application is named in the suit, Mitchell said. She added that as they learn of more individuals who were involved, True the Vote and its lawyers will add those people to the suit as well.
Engelbrecht has explained that since filing the group’s application, her family and family business have been audited by the IRS twice, subject to two unscheduled audits by ATF, one by OSHA, and the Texas-branch of the EPA.
“All of that has happened in a very short amount of time and in my opinion it really begs the question, what is so different now that was not different before we filed that application?”