An appeals court’s upbraiding of foot-dragging by the IRS in a lawsuit alleging discriminatory treatment of nonprofit conservative organizations makes clear that the 2013 scandal is far from over.
A three-judge federal appeals panel in Cincinnati unanimously ordered the IRS to promptly turn over a full list of applicants that it set up for increased scrutiny when it reviewed requests by Tea Party and other conservative groups for tax-exempt, nonprofit status. In at least one case, IRS officials flagged a Tea Party group because it was “icky.”
This week’s ruling accused Justice Department lawyers of conduct in the case that falls outside “a long and storied tradition of defending the nation’s interests and enforcing its laws — all of them, not just selective ones.”
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The class-action lawsuit involves NorCal Tea Party Patriots, which is suing on behalf of more than 200 groups. But the full extent of how many groups might be eligible to join the litigation cannot be known until the IRS produces its list.
The NorCal case is one of several pending in the federal courts. One of them involves 38 anti-abortion organizations represented by the Washington-based American Center for Law and Justice. Lawyers for the organization will lodge their appeal on April 14 — one day before the income tax filing deadline.
The plaintiffs are asking the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a district judge’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit. Abigail Southerland, senior litigation counsel for the ACLJ, wrote that “the IRS simply cannot demonstrate at this point with absolute clarity that the unconstitutional violations it committed have fully ceased and will not occur again.”
Gene Kapp, a spokesman for the organization, said in an interview that 36 of the 38 groups received their nonprofit status only after long, unjustified delays.
“Two of the organizations are still waiting for an answer from the IRS,” he said.
It was a “scathing retort” that can “only be described as a judicial takedown” of the Obama administration.
One of those groups has been waiting for almost six years, while the other filed its application more than six years ago, Kapp said.
Matthew Clark, ACLJ’s senior counsel for digital advocacy, called this week’s ruling by the Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals one of the most stunning judicial opinions he had ever read, writing on the organization’s website that it was a “scathing retort” that can “only be described as a judicial takedown” of the Obama administration.
“One thing remains clear: Continued litigation is the only way to force the IRS’s hand, to expose the DOJ’s tactics, and to bring true justice to those patriotic Americans who were unconstitutionally targeted by their own government,” he said.
The long-simmering IRS scandal cost former IRS official Lois Lerner her job, but the White House has maintained that administration officials did nothing wrong. The Justice Department concluded after an investigation that there has been no criminal wrongdoing, attributing the conduct to poor management.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee turned up plenty of damning evidence that the IRS subjected conservative groups to scrutiny that liberal-oriented nonprofits did not receive. The roots date to August 2010 when an IRS agent in the agency’s Cincinnati office created a “Be on the Lookout” or BOLO list involving “local organizations in the Tea Party movement” applying for tax-exempt status. The IRS did not suspend BOLO lists for Tea Party groups until June 2013.
Earlier that same year, IRS employees apparently were searching for a rationale to deny Tea Party applications. An IRS employee in April emailed Hilary Goehausen, a tax law specialist for the agency, to recommend the approval of the Albuquerque Tea Party’s application because “technically, I don’t know that I can deny them simply for donating to another 501(c)(4).”
Goehausen responded there are a number of ways to deny the application. Her rationale?
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“This sounds like a bad org … This org gives me an icky feeling,” she wrote.
Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance, wrote on his website that this week’s ruling was “music” to his ears.
“Moments like these make you really appreciate the three, divided branches of government,” he wrote. “Perhaps what the legislative branch failed to do, the judicial branch can set right.”