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'I’m a born-free American woman' -- my government has forgotten its place

Editor's note: On Tuesday, June 4, Becky Gerritson, president of Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama, testified before Congress about the IRS allegedly targeting her organization.Here is her full statement to the House Ways and Means Full Committee Hearing on Organizations Targeted by the Internal Revenue Service for Their Personal Beliefs.

Congressman Camp,

Thank you for inviting me here to speak today. And to the rest of the committee, thank you so much for listening.

I’d like to begin with a brief statement. I know that you are primarily interested in hearing about the abuses of the Internal Revenue Service.

But I believe that it is critically important that you and your constituencies know, not just what those abuses were, but what exactly the IRS was trying to stifle. In order to paint a clear picture, I need to explain how the Wetumpka Tea Party came into being.

I am a born-free, American woman – wife, mother and citizen – and I’m telling MY government that you have forgotten your place.

My husband and I had never been involved in politics before 2008. We’ve always been patriotic and deeply proud of our country. We’ve always felt that the United States IS the greatest country on earth.

In September 2008, when we had our first $700 billion bailout, we, along with millions of Americans, were VERY concerned! That bailout was confirmation that our government was out-of-control. But just a few months later, in January of 2009, we learned that our government was going to spend another $787 billion. This money went to foreign nations, failing banks, and unproductive industries. We were worried and knew we had to do something to sound the alarm.

We knew that the government had gone far beyond its habitual, deficit spending. The government was mortgaging America’s future. And we knew that Washington wasn’t going to stop by itself.

In the spring of 2009, we learned others were organizing “Tea Party” events around the nation to educate and empower concerned citizens who believed their government was out of control, so we made our plans.

My husband and I filled out a permit to meet at a local park in our small town. My daughter and I walked through neighborhoods handing out flyers for the on April 15th event. When the day arrived, we were blown away by the large crowd. A few politicians came also, but they didn’t speak. We wanted to give ordinary people a chance to air their concerns.

Our event had no party affiliation. I could not tell you if attendees were Republicans, Democrats or independents – it did not matter. The only political notion expressed was the one we collectively felt: That our “representative government” had failed us.

And that was the birth of the Wetumpka Tea Party. There are no dues, no price for memberships. Our events are mostly educational. Whatever expenses are incurred are paid from donations and T-shirt sales.

In Wetumpka, we are patriotic Americans. We peaceably assemble. We petition our government. We exercise our right to free speech. And we don’t understand why our government tried to stop us.

I am not here today as a serf or a vassal. I am not begging my lords for mercy. I am a born-free, American woman – wife, mother and citizen – and I’m telling MY government that you have forgotten your place. It is not your responsibility to look out for my well-being or monitor my speech. It is not your right to assert an agenda. The posts you occupy exist to preserve American liberty. You have sworn to perform that duty. And you have faltered.

The abuses I will discuss today occurred on your watch. It is your responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

THE FACTS OF MY CASE:
We applied for our 501(c)4 in October 2010. Our $850.00 application fee was cashed seven days from the date our application was mailed.

We received a letter from Robert Choi, dated Nov, 2, 2010 stating that our application and user fee payment had been received. It stated that we could expect to be contacted within 90 days.
However, the IRS did not initiate ANY contact with us for another four hundred and fifty nine days. That was when I received a letter from the Cincinnati office dated February 3rd 2012.

The letter stated that they could not process our application until we completed the enclosed questionnaire which requested approximately ninety pieces of additional information about our organization.

The questionnaire stated that if the additional information was not returned by Feb 24th that our case would be closed.

The demands for information in the questionnaire shocked me, as someone who loves liberty and the first amendment.

I was asked to hand over our list of donors, including the amounts that they gave and the dates on which they gave them. 501c4 organizations do NOT have to disclose donor information. I knew that. Why didn’t they?

Among the demands that I found alarming and inappropriate were:
* The wanted us to identify our volunteers.
* They wanted to know if any of our donors or volunteers had run or would be running for office in the near future, (remember this was the 2012 election cycle). They wanted us to identify the office they would be running for.

*They wanted us to provide detailed contents of all speeches ever given, the names all of our speakers, and their credentials.

*They wanted copies of the written communications and contents of all other forms of communications to any legislative body, even those that represent us.

I was very uncomfortable with these questions and my husband and I discussed forfeiting our application. However, within days of reading through these questions we knew we were being targeted, because fellow TEA Party organizers across the nation were getting the same types of letters and questionnaires. It was then we decided to seek legal council.

On March 6th 2012, we retained the council of the American Center for Law and Justice to represent us in this matter.

2 weeks later, I received a letter from Lois Lerner, dated March 16th 2012, asking that I provide the previously requested information.

4 months later, we received a letter, dated July 9, 2012 stating that we had been approved to receive a tax exempt status. This was six hundred and thirty-five days after we applied.
In conclusion, the Wetumpka TEA Party filed a complete application. Our organization fell within the boundaries of receiving a 501c4 status. Yet, our application was singled out solely because we had “TEA Party” in our name. Government agents made invasive and excessive demands for information that they were not entitled to.

Congressman Camp and members of the committee, this was not an accident. This is a willful act of intimidation intended to discourage a point of view.

What the government did to our little group in Wetumpka, Alabama is un-American. This isn’t a matter of firing or arresting a few individuals.

The individuals who sought to intimidate us were acting as they thought they should, in a government culture that has little respect for its citizens.

Many of the agents and agencies of the federal government do not understand that they are servants of the people. They think they are our masters. And they are mistaken.

I’m not interested in scoring political points. I want to protect and preserve the America I grew up in, the America that people cross oceans and risk their lives to become a part of. And I’m terrified that it’s slipping away.

Becky Gerritson, is president of the Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama.