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California Tea Party group files lawsuit against the IRS

Ohio IRS building.jpg

The John Weld Peckshown Federal Building in Cincinnati, houses the main offices for the Internal Revenue Service in the city. Tea party groups are planning a demonstration at the site Tuesday afternoon. (AP)

True the Vote, a Texas-based Tea Party-related group, claims it was unfairly targeted by the Internal Revenue Service and wants the government to admit its mistake and pay for damages totaling more than $85,000, according to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

The Houston organization says it was harassed and that its application was held up by tax officials who were playing political favorites by subjecting conservative groups applying for tax exempt status to additional scrutiny.

“We’ve been waiting for three years to receive a decision from the IRS about our tax exempt status,” True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht said in a written statement Tuesday.  “After answering hundreds of questions and producing thousands of documents, we’re done waiting. The IRS does not have the power to pocket veto our application. Federal law empowers groups like True the Vote to force a decision in court – which is precisely what we aim to do.”

True the Vote is the second group – but not likely the last - to sue the government over the IRS scandal.

Late Monday, the NorCal Tea Party Patriots filed the first federal suit against the national tax agency. Like True the Vote, the Northern California-based group says the IRS violated its constitutional rights when it held up its applications for tax exempt status.

The IRS acknowledged last week that employees at its Cincinnati office had targeted conservative groups, creating massive amounts of paperwork or rejecting applications altogether.

The NorCal lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Cincinnati,  seeks group status for “all conservative and libertarian groups targeted for additional scrutiny” between March 2010 and May 2013. It’s also seeking unspecified monetary damages for the alleged violation of its constitutional rights and the costs associated with trying to comply with IRS demands.

The lawsuit is being backed by Citizens for Self-Governance, a group launched by Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler.

Meckler claims that IRS agents also demanded massive amounts of disclosure of information not authorized by the Internal Revenue Code or any other federal law. The suit alleges that the tactic was used to delay or dissuade conservative groups from going through with their applications.

“NorCal Tea Party Patriots, like the vast majority of Tea Party groups, is a mom-and-pop operation, run by ordinary citizens, often new to the process of formally organizing for expressive and social welfare purposes,” Meckler said in documents filed with the court. “Like most Tea Party organizations, NorCal Tea Party Patriots operates on a shoestring budget and relies on its members and volunteers to perform the vast majority of its activities.”

The suit also claims that the IRS wanted so much information that it suffocated the efforts of NorCal Tea Party Patriots and other like-minded groups.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages for the IRS' alleged violation of the Privacy Act of 1974 and the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It is not known exactly how many groups could qualify to be members of the class-action lawsuit. There were 296 applications reviewed in the inspector general’s report released last week.  

Calls to the IRS for comment were not immediately returned.