Nonprofit tea-party chief: I've been hassled not just by the IRS but by the FBI, ATF, and OSHA

Via the Right Scoop, a video companion to Jillian Kay Melchior’s must-read today at NRO about the Kafkaesque government gauntlet run by “True the Vote,” a nonprofit devoted to training people to be election monitors. Why might an org like that attract federal scrutiny? Catherine Engelbrecht, the group’s founder, thinks it’s because she’s an active tea partier who founded another nonprofit devoted to discussing “personal and economic freedoms” known as — ta da — King Street Patriots. The “P word” was, of course, on the IRS’s list of verboten nonprofit names whose applications for tax exemption needed extra scrutiny. So far, so bad. What’s unusual about Engelbrecht’s story is that the government’s interest in King Street Patriots seemingly bled over into scrutiny of True the Vote and even the Engelbrechts’ family business, with Texas state environmental regulators eventually roped in because they received a mysterious “complaint” from someone about the business’s HQ. You need to read Melchior’s piece to grasp the extent of it; three years later, King Street Patriots and True the Vote still have yet to receive nonprofit approval from the IRS. And pay attention to what Kevin Williamson rightly flags as a key subplot, namely the ability of federal and state regulators to find costly infractions even among a well run, reputable business. If the state wants to make your life difficult, there’s a galaxy of laws out there it can use to do it. The process, as Mark Steyn says, is the punishment.

Three points. One, very broadly: If the IRS’s big problem circa 2010 was that it was overwhelmed with nonprofit applications (or so the agency falsely claims), why did that lead to unusually onerous demands for information? The typical government response to unmanageable workloads is to cut corners, yet the agency ended up asking Engelbrecht to send them copies of every Facebook post and Tweet that she ever sent, amid hundreds of other questions. That’s odd, no? You would think the big scandal to come out of a glut of tax-exempt petitions is that those petitions were being approved unusually quickly and with little scrutiny. Instead the opposite happened. Go figure. Two, obviously: Have any other conservative nonprofit chiefs found themselves targeted by multiple federal agencies? Nothing would surprise me at this point, but unless I missed a big story, Engelbrecht’s the only person talking — right now — about systemic scrutiny after filing for nonprofit status. Third: What’s going on in this passage in Melchior’s story?

In July 2010, Catherine filed with the IRS seeking tax-exempt status for her organizations. Shortly after, the troubles began.

That winter, the Federal Bureau of Investigation came knocking with questions about a person who had attended a King Street Patriots event once. Based on sign-in sheets, the organization discovered that the individual in question had attended an event, but β€œit was a come-and-go thing,” and they had no further information on hand about him. Nevertheless, the FBI also made inquiries about the person to the office manager, who was a volunteer.

Who were they looking for? And was that, rather than the nonprofit application, the real trigger for the feds’ subsequent inquisitiveness? Even if the mystery attendee was a criminal of some sort, that’s no reason for the ATF and OSHA to be picking through the Engelbrechts’ place of business; there’s no evidence that they’re anything but upstanding citizens. But I’d be curious to know why the FBI is sniffing around a tea-party group’s attendance sheet.