IRS Assault on the Tea Party?

Demonstrators gather on the plaza near the U.S. Capitol to participate in a protest against Obama's fiscal and economic policies in Washington

From: David French, ACLJ

In the last 24 hours, my colleagues at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) have been in contact with literally dozens of tea party organizations that have received intrusive information demands from the IRS, demands that seriously implicate their First Amendment rights. These information demands follow Tea Party requests for 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) status and include questions like the following:

Do you directly or indirectly communicate with members of legislative bodies? If so, provide copies of the written communications and contents of other forms of communications.


Please describe the associate group members and their role with your organization in further detail. (a) How does your organization solicit members? (b) What are the questions asked of potential members? (c) What are the selection criteria for approval? (d) Do you limit membership to other organizations exempt under 501(c)(4) of the Code? (e) Provide the name, employer identification number, and address of the organizations.


Do you have a close relationship with any candidate for public office or political party? If so describe fully the nature of that relationship.

The quoted requests are merely the tip of the iceberg. We’re still reviewing the IRS letters and will have more information as we complete our review. Each of these questions — in their content, breadth, and vagueness — implicate the free speech rights of the affected Tea Party groups. Moreover, such intrusive membership requests also run afoul of NAACP v. Alabama and implicate their rights to freedom of association.

Critically, the demands we’ve seen are made not in response to complaints of wrongdoing but instead in response to applications for exemption. In other words, the IRS appears to be conditioning the grant of exemptions on the extensive violation of the Tea Party’s fundamental First Amendment freedoms.

As I said, our review is ongoing, but the early indications are the IRS is using the routine process of seeking and granting tax exemptions to undertake a sweeping, top-down review of the internal workings of the Tea Party movement in the United States. Such a review is far beyond its mission and directly implicates the First Amendment rights of all citizens.

This article is crossposted at National Review Online.


8 thoughts on “IRS Assault on the Tea Party?

  1. rrneef March 9, 2012 / 12:42 PM

    I believe I understand your general argument and do not take issue with your underlying premise. Rather than engage in a discussion of specific “what ifs” to find some area of disagreement, I think we are of like minds in believing that a close watch is warranted whenever our “civil liberties” (if I may use that broad term) are threatened. There are many among us who have feel an erosion of same has been ongoing since 9/11. Thank you for the discussion. I appreciate the lack of rancor and hope I’ve established that I do, indeed, possess a wit of common sense. I’ll look forward to following your blog.

  2. rrneef March 9, 2012 / 10:18 AM

    Having assisted entities in applying for 501(c)(3) status, I think you are premature in your judgment of the IRS and the information it seeks. Surely you agree that there are “non-profit” organizations whose compliance with the code sections is tenuous at best. I’d like your analysis of how the questions asked do not relate to the requirements for an exemption under 501(c)(3) or similar code sections.

    • rrneef March 9, 2012 / 10:33 AM

      Actually, let me try this another way. I understand your point and the general concerns. This is where the argument loses me: There are those who see this as simply a political attempt to silence a certain segment of the American elective and allege that such intrusion is oppressive and unconstitutional. Yet, some of these same people would have no problem with such action if the “target” was not the Tea Party but, say, a Muslim organization seeking 501(c)(3) status. Those folks would argue that these actions were acceptable on National Security grounds, completing ignoring extremists professing to be Tea Party members who barely disguise (if at all), their support for vigilante justice, for using bullets if ballots don’t work, etc. So, if we’re going to have this discussion, let’s have it about the actions of the IRS, not about whether those actions are unacceptable in some circumstances but appropriate in others. All that said, the issue is one worth raising and warrants a close watch.

      • rrneef March 9, 2012 / 10:34 AM

        Electorate, not elective, of course.

      • Talon's Point March 9, 2012 / 10:41 AM

        No worries on that point. I never attack someone on such errors as we all make them.

      • Talon's Point March 9, 2012 / 11:00 AM

        Here’s where it gets sticky and I don’t wish to offend but will also not beat around the bush.

        Liberty comes with the price of responsibility to the rules that enable that liberty. While I have defended Muslims in certain settings against general attack, citing the fact that Muslims fought in the Revolutionary War along side Washington, it is also true that the Quran promotes lieing to non believers (infidels) often referred to in a more modern term Taqiyya (chose source of spelling) in the purpose of achieving the goals of Islam. As such, because there is clearly a faction of Islam followers who seek the destruction of America, some form of seeking out threats must be taken to get past the smokescreen when real threats exist.

        This action could equally be used against a Tea Party individual or group if there was reasonable cause to believe such a threat against society existed and appropriate legal steps were taken (subpeona etc) toward determining legitimacy of such concern.

        Now with regard to your assertion that there Tea Partiers who promote vigilante justice against Muslims I can tell you this much. I have been an Admin at a major tea party site and we held a zero tolerance policy to such comments as most such site do. Note: the presence of such comments do not indicate sympathy for such things let alone prove those views even exist among the community as one form of attack against an entity can be made by creating the narrative through infiltration of such comments or deeds done in the name of said organization. Certainly you would agree and no doubt have concerns such actions could be taken within the Muslim community just to make it look bad.

        The problem you have with perceptions however are not helped by the reality of what is being observed in Europe.

    • Talon's Point March 9, 2012 / 10:39 AM

      I’ll answer your question with a question “Where in the Constitution in the federal government granted the power to demand such information?” Article and section please.

      The IRS does not have the constitutional authority to demand a group or individual provide documentation of interaction with their elected representatives. The goal here is to provide a chilling effect on conservative political speech but if there is evidence that they are targeting liberal individuals or organizations with these same demands (questionable) I stand locked arm with those entities in unison for the protection of their freedom of speech and association.

      Such demands are antithetical to freedom itself. What governments in history reminds you of this statement? “You can talk to whomever you want but we must know who they are and what was said.” This is the very essence of the IRS requirement.

      Demands for such information can only be legally required when charges of wrongdoing have been made and a person or organization is being investigated accordingly. What the IRS is attempting and you are defending is the allowance for government to investigate your and my Constitutionally protected speech without reasonable cause.

      If you had a wit of common sense you would have cold shivers running up and down your spine.

Toss in your "two cents" if you care to. Fair warning, you might get change ;-)

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