WASHINGTON — Leaders of conservative groups targeted for extra scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill about the “chilling” demands from the agency as they sought tax exempt status over the last several years.
The organizer of an educational group called Linchpins of Liberty said the IRS wanted the names of all his students, many of whom are minors.
The organizer of a tea party group said the IRS requested copies of all their communications with legislators.
The organizer of a pro-life group said an IRS official even asked the group to pledge not to picket the pro-abortion organization Planned Parenthood if they wanted their application to go through.
“The questions were chilling,” said Becky Gerritson of the Wetumpka Tea Party, while testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee. “I was shocked that I was getting those questions.”
The allegations of wrongdoing recently came to light after Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration, released a report showing the agency had been unfairly targeting conservative groups who wanted tax exempt status ahead of the 2012 election.
Kevin Kookogey, the founder and president of the educational group Linchpins of Liberty, said he applied for tax exempt status in 2011 but still hasn’t been approved. He said he has since lost a $30,000 launch grant because the IRS hasn’t yet given him the status.
“The types of questions asked by the IRS included asking me to identify the political affiliation of my mentors, and that I advise the IRS of my political position on virtually every issue of importance to me,” he said.
Troubling to him, Kookogey said, was being asked to “identify those whom I train — and that I inform the federal government in detail what I am teaching my students.”
“Considering that the mission of my organization is devoted to mentoring young people, some of whom are minors, can you imagine the reaction of the students parents were I to turn over the names of their children to the IRS?” he said.
Diane Belsom of Laurens County Tea Party in South Carolina said her group applied for 501c4 tax exempt status in July of 2010, but in September 2012 was asked by the IRS for “extremely burdensome additional information.”
Belsom said they asked for samples from their social media sites, including Facebook. The IRS wanted “detailed information about all meetings, rallies, and events, with dates and names of speakers, agendas, any associated materials.”
“Our group is a small-time operation with very little money, and this represents a complete waste of time by the IRS in terms of any money they would collect if we were not tax-exempt,” Belsom testified. “Furthermore, nearly three years in waiting for an answer is totally unacceptable.”
After applying for tax exempt status in 2010, Karen Kenny of the San Fernando Valley Patriots said they received a packet from the IRS with 35 questions divided into 80 sub-points of inquiry.
“The questions were a demand that read like the chilling words from the 1950s: ‘Are you now or have you ever been,'” Kenny recalled.
She said the IRS sought data on volunteers and members, the Employer Identity Numbers of businesses they associated with, and details of communications with legislators.
“My personal favorite was question No. 33, which in relation to protests asked for a listing of our ‘committed violations of local ordinances, breaches of public order or arrests’ then requested details on how we ‘conduct or promote’ illegal activities,” she recalled.
Quipped Kenny: “I think the IRS needs to fix its labeling machine: We’re the San Fernando Valley Patriots, not Occupy Oakland.”
Perhaps most shockingly, Sue Martinek of the group Coalition for Life of Iowa recalled how an IRS agent who identified herself as “Ms. Richards” told her the group had to pledge not to protest outside Planned Parenthood if they wanted tax exempt status.
“Ms. Richards told me verbally that we needed to send in a letter with the entire board’s signatures stating that under perjury of law, we would not picket, protest or organize groups to picket and protest outside of Planned Parenthood,” she said.