OXON HILL, Md. – The IRS targeting scandal may have faded from the headlines of major newspapers, but Tea Party groups renewed their battle cry against the tax agency on Thursday as the Conservative Political Action Conference got underway.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, kicked off CPAC -- the annual conservative pilgrimage just outside the nation's capital -- by telling a crowd of the GOP faithful, "We need to abolish the IRS."
"By virtue of your being here today, tomorrow each and every one of you is going to be audited by the IRS," he said.
Following his speech, a six-person panel discussion, titled "IRS Targeting Scandal: Protecting the Voice of the People," served as a refresher course for the standing-room-only crowd packed into the Maryland meeting room.
The purpose, panelists told FoxNews.com, was to come together and share stories about what they say are abusive targeting practices of conservative groups at the hands of the tax-collecting agency.
But for Bill Norton, head of the Tea Party Patriots, the actions of the IRS go beyond harassing conservatives. He says the actions of the government agency trample on the First Amendment rights of everyone.
"Freedom of speech is very essential," Norton said. "It's not about the Tea Party targeting but about targeting free speech."
Panelist Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said the IRS scandal has "united and reunited this movement ... standing up against the IRS."
"People used to not speak out commonly against the IRS," he said. "Victory, part one, is that we are calling out the IRS and we can do that for the first time together."
Sekulow also raised the possibility that the newest plot twist involving Lois Lerner -- the ex-IRS official who first publicly acknowledged the targeting -- smacks of a government cover-up.
During a House hearing on Wednesday, Lerner once again invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify. Last year, Lerner also refused to answer questions about her role in singling out conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.
The mystery of her refusal to testify for a second time is what Seklow says is disconcerting.
"We already know Lois Lerner is at the center of this," he said. "She is not going to be able to talk her way out of it. But how high up does this go?"
He added, "There are lots of people involved but at the end of the day, she decided not to testify. Something happened. What happened?"
At times. the crowd clapped, cheered and expressed anger as Kevin Kookogey, founder and president of Linchpins of Liberty, detailed his story at the hands of the IRS.
Kookogey, said the tax agency slow-walked his application for 501(c)(3) status. He says what should have taken two to four months stretched out over 35 months and ended up costing him a $30,000 grant. He said he also lost 75 percent of his business because his clients did not want to associate with someone being looked at by "the largest and most intimidating organization in the world."
Eventually, he said, he did get his application approved but "it was like a lifeguard had tossed a preserve to a swimmer who had already drowned."