In the start of what is certain to be an avalanche of legal action against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an umbrella group for northern California chapters of the Tea Party sued the federal government (pdf) for allegedly illegally targeting them for their political affiliation.
The NorCal Tea Party Patriots filed its lawsuit—and asked for class-action status—in Cincinnati, where staffers at an IRS office singled out for scrutiny groups applying for tax-exempt status whose names indicated a political affiliation. Like the Tea Party. The suit was filed against the IRS, the Department of the Treasury and 100 John Does who worked or still work at the IRS.
The NorCal group says it applied for tax-exempt status in March 2010 but didn’t receive approval until August 2012. In between, the group claims it was forced to complete an onerous application process.
The IRS has been besieged with new applications for the nonprofit status since the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case in 2010. The ruling opened the door for groups to apply for Section 501(4c) tax exemptions given to social welfare organizations that don’t expressly promote political actions.
The large influx that overwhelmed the IRS simply with its volume also raised legal questions about who should get the tax-exempt status and whether applicants were being properly vetted.
They weren’t. But they might now, and they might not like it. The national Tea Party Patriots has claimed 3,500 affiliates since 2009, many of whom have not had much experience dealing with the complexities of tax law and nonprofit organizations.
Mother Jones identified Texas-based, Tea Party-related True the Vote, which filed its IRS lawsuit Tuesday, the day after NorCal, as one company that might not want the IRS to take a closer look at their non-political activity. True the Vote is best known for training volunteers to patrol poll locations in minority neighborhoods across the country to keep an eye on potential voting violations.
Ethics complaints (pdf) have also been filed against the group for allegedly holding candidate forums with just Republicans and recruiting partisan poll watchers for the Harris County Republican Party.
Besides requesting for class-action status, the lawsuit asks for money to pay for all the paperwork they had to handle, the lawyers they are now hiring, any other expenses related to the IRS action and “damages for impairment of constitutionally protected rights.” The Tea Party group apparently doesn’t trust the judge any more than the IRS and put its last message to the court in allcaps: A JURY TRIAL IS DEMANDED ON ALL ISSUES SO TRIABLE.