The scope of the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service concerning its admitted targeting of conservative groups applying for federal tax-exempt status appears to be wider than originally thought, according to new documents obtained by the International Business Times.
Lois Lerner, director of the Exempt Organizations Division at the IRS, stated Friday that employees at the Cincinnati IRS office had targeted groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. But letters obtained by IBTimes suggest that employees of IRS offices in Washington, D.C., and two California cities -- El Monte and Laguna Niguel -- also engaged in such practices. These letters contain unusual requests for a wide variety of information and materials, ranging from the résumés of group board members to schedules of upcoming rallies.
“The idea that they’re going to blame this on some lower-level Cincinnati staffers….This was a strategy imposed by the IRS,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing a wide range of conservative groups whose tax-exempt status applications have been in legal limbo for as long as two years. “This happened at the national level. We have groups here in 17 different states that received similar questions.”
Julie Hodges, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Tea Party -- which submitted an application for tax-exempt 501(4)c status to the IRS in spring 2009 -- provided IBTimes with copies of letters sent from Cincinnati and El Monte, Calif. (scroll to the end of this article to read a copy of the El Monte letter with identifying information redacted) requesting “more information” about her group’s activities.
“It’s been nonstop. They’d send us questions and we’d send them back, and we’d get [more questions] and send them back and back again,” she said Tuesday, adding, “We knew we would be scrutinized because we had ‘Tea Party’ in our name, and then all of this came about and we were like, 'wow, that’s really scrutinizing.' It was nuts.”
The letter from El Monte, sent Jan. 10, 2012, stated that the group’s application for exempt status had been reassigned to an internal revenue agent at the IRS office in El Monte, outside of Los Angeles. Calls to the El Monte IRS office went unanswered Tuesday afternoon, as did email and phone requests to the IRS Media Relations Office.
In the end, the Mississippi Tea Party ended up withdrawing its application for tax-exempt status on April 23, more than three years after the initial application was submitted to the IRS. Hodges said the group has less than $800 in its bank account, and that “after a while we were like, 'You know what? It’s not worth it.'”
The group is one of dozens of conservative organizations across the United States that say they experienced similar harassment at the hands of the IRS in recent years. The ACLJ provided IBTimes on Tuesday with copies of four letters sent by the IRS requesting more information from conservative groups applying for exempt status, one each from Cincinnati; El Monte, Calif., Laguna Niguel, Calif., and Washington, D.C.
The fact that at least four IRS offices across the nation have sent letters requesting more information from conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status begs the question of how deep the scandal goes.
“There is no question that the IRS scheme emanated from beyond the IRS office in Cincinnati,” an ACLJ spokesperson wrote via email.
Read the letter the El Monte, Calif., IRS sent the Mississippi Tea Party requesting more information concerning its tax-exempt status application: