The Internal Revenue Service admitted Friday to improperly targeting conservative groups for aggressive applications processes for tax exempt status in 2012, using the terms “Tea Party” and “patriot” as flags. Here are some of the things they wanted to know about those groups.
1. We’re gonna need all your direct and indirect communication. “‘Direct and indirect communications’ is profoundly chilling of First Amendment rights, ” said David French, senior counsel for American Center for Law & Justice, which has been representing 27 conservative organizations met with IRS inquisitions. “It’s so vague as to be impossible to comply with.”
2. What do we need to know about your members? Nothing much. Just ALL THE THINGS!
3. Your present and past employees and their relationships, please.
4. No, family members of past and present board members and employees are not exempt, nor are their activities with other groups. Why do you ask?
5. If someone in this country’s free press has ever interacted with you in any way shape or form about your free speech activities, we’re going to need documentation of that.
6. By the way, all the insane, intrusive information we’re asking for is understood to be public once you’ve given it to us, so please include only the most flattering possible photos of your children and pets.
7. There are very specific requirements for completing and submitting this insane, intrusive information we’re asking for. Does it feel like you’re running hurdles yet, Lolo?
8. Don’t forget to read the continued very specific requirements for completing and submitting this insane, intrusive information.
9. If you do not comply with these very specific requirements for completing and submitting this insane, intrusive application, you will go directly back to Start, you will not pass Go, and let’s face it, we will probably collect $200.
10. Please predict the future reliably. Thank you for your time.
All of the examples above are taken from actual IRS correspondence received by ACLJ’s 27 clients. There were many versions of the in-depth questionnaire sent to different organizations, suggesting there was more than one agent or one office involved. Though IRS officials blamed “low-level” employees in the Cincinnati office, which is the central IRS office in charge of tax exemptions, French said the abuse was far more widespread. ACLJ’s clients dealt with inquiries from IRS offices from “coast to coast.” Of ACLJ’s 27 clients, 15 finally had their status approved after 6-7 months with legal help. There are 12 groups whose status remains in limbo.
Update: I meant to add that a 2011 letter from Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Jim Jordan laid out 16 areas of the Tea Party questionnaires that seemed to overreach. Here they are.