Ten days ago, National Review reported on the strange coincidence experienced by Catharine Engelbrecht when she formed True the Vote to press for voter-ID reform and applied to the IRS for tax-exempt status. Not only did the IRS delay the application and demand more and more information, but Engelbrecht’s unrelated business attracted sudden attention from the FBI, ATF, OSHA, and other regulatory agencies as well. After the IRS admitted targeting conservative groups for more scrutiny and harassment just ahead of an Inspector General audit that made clear the issue was worse than the IRS’ admission, Engelbrecht began to wonder whether the multi-agency harassment was also more than a coincidence.
CBS News picked up the story last night, which might sound surprising — except that Sharyl Attkisson is one of the reporters filing it:
Texas businesswoman Catherine Engelbrecht says she never had trouble with the government. That is, until she founded two groups with conservative causes. Now, she’s telling a fascinating story of alleged harassment not only by the IRS but also other agencies that she believes targeted her and her organizations because of their political ties. …
The trouble began shortly after Engelbrecht founded True the Vote, which trains election volunteers and aims to root out voter fraud; and King Street Patriots, a group with ideals similar to the Tea Party. Both sought tax-exempt status from the IRS in July 2010. And both organizations drew the ire of Democrats. Democrats accused True the Vote of intimidating voters in its poll watching efforts, which the group denies. And the Texas Democratic Party successfully sued King Street Patriots, arguing that it’s an unregistered political action committee.
But Engelbrecht’s attorney, Cleta Mitchell, says it’s not just the Democratic Party that went after the conservative causes, but also the federal government. Within months of the groups filing for tax-exempt status, Engelbrecht claims she started getting hit by an onslaught of harassment: six FBI domestic terrorism inquiries, an IRS visit, two IRS business audits, two IRS personal audits, and inspections of her equipment manufacturing company by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Texas environmental quality officials.
Taken alone, any of the visits and actions might seem perfectly reasonable. But Engelbrecht and her lawyer says it’s the pattern and the timing of the attention paid to Engelbrecht’s interests that led them to conclude something was amiss.
True the Vote filed a lawsuit against the IRS last week for its harassment, which even an attorney representing liberal groups on tax exemption found “very troubling”:
Washington, D.C., attorney John Pomeranz represents liberal organizations seeking tax-exemption. He told CBS News that he has found some of the IRS requests of tea party groups “new” and “very troubling,” and said he doesn’t recall getting similar demands for his liberal clients.
Assuming this lawsuit shakes loose any evidence of coordination between these agencies (still a large assumption at this point), that would be more than just “very troubling.” The IRS works within the Department of the Treasury; ATF and FBI within Justice; and OSHA within Labor. Any coordination would have to take place well above the agency leadership level and up to Cabinet level at least. Or it would, unless it turns out that the leaders of these agencies have the same visiting pattern to the West Wing as Douglas Shulman, in which case we’re talking about coordination at the highest level. And while it’s possible that all of the attention showered on Engelbrecht was just a coincidence, nothing we’ve seen from the responses of the bureaucrats called on the carpet by Congress gives any confidence in that explanation.
Most of the media has ignored the True the Vote story, but I’m not surprised to see Attkisson giving it a closer look. It may not develop much until the discovery process, but at least CBS News has laid down a marker on the case.