In late May 2013, we’d seen enough. We filed a lawsuit, the largest in ACLJ history.21 Ultimately including forty-one conservative and pro-life organizations in twenty-two states, it represented a comprehensive attack on the IRS targeting scheme and laid out in detail the consequences of the IRS’s misconduct. The ACLJ filed its case with the following understanding:
The IRS scheme had a dramatic impact on targeted groups, causing many to curtail lawful activities, expend considerable unnecessary funds, lose donor support, and devote countless hours of time responding to onerous and targeted IRS information requests that were outside the scope of legitimate inquiry.
Unlawful IRS targeting, despite public apologies, is ongoing. Multiple conservative organizations still have not received final determinations on their applications, are still receiving intrusive requests for information, and are still suffering financial harm. Some of these organizations, even after receiving tax-exempt status, have been subjected to continued monitoring by the IRS based on the same un- lawful purposes for which their applications were originally targeted.22
As we filed our case—and used the full resources of the ACLJ to inform Congress and the American people—the scandal exploded. There’s an old Washington saying that the worst kinds of scan- dals are characterized by a “drip, drip, drip” of new information— with small new details emerging weekly or monthly until they slowly fill the news media with stories of wrongdoing.
But there was nothing “drip, drip, drip” about this scandal. It quickly became “flood, flood, flood.”
In fact, as of the time of this writing, it is no longer appropriate to refer simply to “the IRS targeting scandal.” The appropriate response is to ask, “Which IRS targeting scandal?”
They are legion.
The IRS Discloses Conservatives’ Confidential Information
The IRS has a terrible habit of disclosing confidential taxpayer in- formation about conservatives and conservative groups.
In 2012, at the height of the presidential election season, the IRS claimed it “inadvertently” sent a copy of confidential documents to a liberal group called the Human Rights Campaign showing that an organization affiliated with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had donated to a prominent social conservative organization.23
This news—as well as the illegal disclosure—soon found its way onto the Huffington Post, where it was used to paint Romney as bigoted and further motivate President Obama’s leftist base to turn out to vote.
The conservative organization sued, and in 2014 the IRS settled the case, agreeing to pay the group fifty thousand dollars in actual damages for the disclosure, but the real damage had already been done to the Romney campaign and—more important—the public trust.24
But even as the IRS settled it continued to maintain that the disclosure was a mistake.
A mistake? Really?
Here’s the liberal news organization ProPublica:
The same IRS office that deliberately targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status in the run-up to the 2012 election released nine pending confidential applications of conservative groups to ProPublica late last year.
How did this happen?
In response to a request for the applications for 67 dif- ferent nonprofits last November, the Cincinnati office of the IRS sent ProPublica applications or documentation for 31 groups. Nine of those applications had not yet been approved—meaning they were not supposed to be made public. (We [ProPublica] made six of those public, after redacting their financial information, deeming that they were newsworthy.) 25
Once again, it’s important to emphasize the importance of these disclosures. Taxpayer confidentiality exists for a reason. Disclosure of confidential information leaves a taxpayer publicly exposed and vulnerable, and knowledge that their information is uniquely vulnerable to IRS “mistakes” can have a profound deterrent effect on the decision to even attempt to form a 501(c)(4) or to donate to a conservative nonprofit.
The IRS was following the rules with liberals, allowing their contributions to be secret. But with conservatives, the IRS was all too willing to break the rules, to expose conservative donations to the world. Their goal was obvious: to try to frighten conservatives into closing their wallets, depriving conservative groups of the money they needed to oppose the Left’s agenda.
But that’s not all, of course.
The IRS Audits Conservatives
Even as it emerged that the IRS systematically targeted conservative organizations for additional scrutiny in the nonprofit application process, many conservatives were reporting a much more up-close and personal encounter with the revenue agency:
Despite [Lois Lerner’s] assurances to the contrary, the IRS didn’t destroy all of the donor lists scooped up in its tea party targeting [as they were ordered to do]—and a check of those lists reveals that the tax agency audited 10 percent of those donors, much higher than the audit rate for average Americans, House Republicans revealed Wednesday.26
Ten percent isn’t just a “much higher” audit rate. It’s astronomically higher. In fact, Tea Party donors were “1000% more likely to be audited” than your average taxpayer.27
And it wasn’t just Tea Party donors; some of Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s larger donors and other prominent conservatives faced their own IRS ordeals. Here’s an ABC News report from May 2013:
Now Frank VanderSloot, an Idaho businessman who donated more than $1 million to groups supporting Romney, told ABC News he believes he may have been targeted for an audit after his opposition to the Obama administration. So did Hal Scherz, a physician who started the group Docs4PatientCare to lobby against President Obama’s health care initiative, and became a vocal critic of the president on cable news programs. Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham, said he believes his father was a target of unusual IRS scrutiny as well, according to published reports Wednesday.28
The IRS targeted not only Graham’s evangelistic activities, but also Graham’s humanitarian activities overseas, hitting Samaritan’s Purse, a group known for—among other things—“Operation Christmas Child,” a program that provides hope, gifts, and joy to desperately poor children around the globe.
Graham told Politico that groups founded by his famous father, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the family’s international humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse, were both subjected to aggressive action by the IRS. In a letter to President Obama, which he shared with the news outlet, he wrote: “I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence—or justifiable.” 29
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. The ACLJ represents dozens of organizations that were unlawfully targeted by the IRS. Jay is a New York Times bestselling author. His latest book “UNDEMOCRATIC: How Unelected, Unaccountable Bureaucrats Are Stealing Your Liberty and Freedom” is available now. He hosts “Jay Sekulow Live”– a daily radio show which is broadcast on more than 850 stations nationwide as well as Sirius/XM satellite radio. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.
Excerpt provided by Howard Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
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