Jay Sekulow: Here's how the Albuquerque Tea Party FINALLY got tax-exempt status from the IRS

It has been clear for years that the Internal Revenue Service unlawfully targeted dozens of conservative and Tea Party organizations in what amounted to a disturbing scheme to keep them on the sidelines in the runup to the 2012 election.

At the American Center for Law and Justice, we’ve been aggressively battling the IRS in federal court since 2013, representing dozens of these groups that were singled out and effectively punished for their political views.

In addition to battling the IRS in court, we have continued to press our case with the agency itself, publicly calling out the corruption and demanding the agency bring an end to its stalling tactics aimed at our clients.

The IRS has been dragging its feet for years in responding to applications from our clients for a determination of their tax-exempt status. In one of the most egregious stalling tactics I have ever witnessed, the Albuquerque Tea Party has been in limbo for nearly eight years. The IRS has failed to act – no explanation, no information, no nothing.

Now, after years of delays, I am delighted to report that our client has finally received its tax-exempt designation as a 501(c) (4) organization.

This critical free-speech victory does not represent a change of heart by a still-corrupt IRS. In fact, if the IRS had its way, it likely would never have responded. But thanks to a federal district court judge’s order last October, the IRS was forced to act on the pending determinations.

The lengthy delays by the IRS did not go unnoticed – especially by the Albuquerque Journal, which has been following this case since 2010.  Noting the wait time for a determination of the group’s application should have been “much shorter,” the newspaper’s editorial board correctly summarized the problem:

“Once Barack Obama became president, groups aligned with the Tea Party movement suddenly had difficulty gaining tax-exempt status. In fact, the IRS admitted it did not give the same scrutiny to groups with a liberal or progressive leaning on their applications. At its heart this is not about agreeing with a group’s political bent; it’s about the IRS being a nonpartisan agency that is supposed to ‘enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.’”

Let’s not forget that those responsible for this unlawful targeting scheme have never been held accountable. For years, we’ve been demanding that former top IRS official Lois Lerner and others be held accountable for their roles in this scandal.

At the ACLJ, we expressed our support three months ago when House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady and Tax Policy Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking the Department of Justice to reopen a probe of Lerner, who was at the center of a targeting scandal.

As I wrote in April, in this plea for the Justice Department to get involved, the lawmakers contend there is clear evidence that Lerner willfully took part in criminal activity during her tenure as the Exempt Organizations Division director.

In the letter, Brady, R-Texas, and Roskam, R-Ill., wrote:

“On April 9, 2014, the House Committee on Ways and Means voted to send a letter to the Department of Justice referring former IRS Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois G. Lerner for criminal prosecution. As indicated in the attached letter, the Committee’s nearly three-year investigation uncovered evidence of willful misconduct on the part of Ms. Lerner. Despite this fact and for what many believe were purely partisan reasons, the prior Administration refused to review Ms. Lerner’s misconduct.”

One of the best ways to clean-up the scandal-ridden IRS is to hold those responsible for the targeting scheme accountable. Reopening an investigation into the actions of Lois Lerner would be an important first step.

Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He also serves as a member of President Trump’s legal team.  Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.