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The puzzling, intrusive questions the IRS asked conservative groups we represent

 

Lois Lerner is the director of the exempt organizations division at the IRS. Friday, she dropped a bombshell when she told reporters, that “absolutely inappropriate” actions were undertaken by “front-line people” located in Cincinnati who went rogue and searched out groups with “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their tax exemption applications and then put those groups through a special, intrusive process.

Now we have learned that Lerner knew about the targeting as early as 2011.

But Congress and the America public didn’t know until just before the weekend.

We also learned more from a draft of the Inspector General’s report that was released in the media over the weekend. The draft provides a comprehensive timeline for the IRS scandal. 

The targeting actually began before the 2010 mid-term elections and appears far more widespread than the IRS first reported. It turns out that it’s not just Tea Party groups, but Jewish organizations and even some groups that study and discuss the U.S. Constitution were targeted.

But there’s more, much more, to this scandal than detailed in the IG report.  At the American Center for Law and Justice, we’ve represented 27 conservative organizations, from 18 states.  Here’s what we’ve learned:

First, the scandal was hardly localized with rogue agents in Cincinnati.  At the ACLJ alone, we’ve also dealt with offices in Washington, D.C., Laguna Niguel, California, and El Monte, California.

Second – and here’s what the mainstream media is missing – the questions asked the conservative groups were unconstitutionally intrusive.  Here’s one example:

Do you directly or indirectly communicate with members of legislative bodies?  If so, provide copies of the written communications and contents of other forms of communications. 

What is an “indirect” communication?  A newspaper article that a legislator might read?  A speech a legislator’s spouse might attend?  The question is impossibly broad and vague. 

Here’s another example:

List each past or present board member, officer, key employee and members of their families who:

a) Has served on the board of another organization.

b) Was, is or plans to be a candidate for public office.  Indicate the nature of each candidacy.

c) Has previously conducted similar activities for another entity.

d) Has previously submitted an application for tax exempt status.

So now the spouses, parents, and children of conservative leaders are under scrutiny?

Or, how about this:

Do you have a close relationship with any candidate for public office or political party?  If so describe fully the nature of that relationship.

These questions read like a wish list for far-left activists trying to examine every aspect of the conservative grassroots movement and chill or intimidate activists into silence.  Imagine if the IRS had similarly targeted the Occupy Wally Street movement or labor unions or environmentalist groups, the outcry -- from the beginning -- would have been overwhelming.

Third, the IRS abuse is ongoing.  Even though the IRS admitted wrongdoing, even though the Inspector General’s report indicates that wrongdoing was widespread, the IRS still hasn’t withdrawn its overbroad and unconstitutional questions, and it still hasn’t granted the exemptions it should grant, despite the fact that some applications have been pending for more than two years.

At the ACLJ we sent the IRS a letter demanding that it grant tax exemptions for all pending applications for our clients, and we also demanded that the IRS hold accountable all those responsible for its unconstitutional policy and actions.

I started my career as a trial tax attorney in the Office of Chief Counsel for the Internal Revenue Service, and it is impossible for me to believe that this misconduct to be localized and undertaken by “low-level” employees.

In fact, those who work in this area are highly trained, tax-exempt specialists who don’t pursue reviews without approval. Indeed, the Inspector General’s report is unlikely to be truly comprehensive. That’s why a thorough congressional investigation is absolutely mandatory.

We need more than an investigation; we need accountability.  At the ACLJ we’re exploring all legal options on behalf of our clients.  But accountability need not wait on litigation.  Americans won’t regain confidence in the IRS – perhaps the federal government’s most intrusive and omnipresent agency – unless those responsible are punished. 

So far the Obama administration has a terrible track record of holding officials responsible for misconduct. 

No one has truly been held accountable even for the Benghazi debacle, where 4 brave Americans lost their lives.  Yes, President Obama has expressed outrage at the IRS scandal, but actions speak louder than words.

Mr. President, the ball’s in your court.  Will you act?

Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He hosts a daily radio show, "Jay Sekulow Live," which is broadcast on more than 850 stations nationwide as well as Sirius/X satellite radio. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.