Testifying on Capitol Hill Tuesday, witnesses from Tea Party, pro-life and patriotic educational groups from around the country testified about their experience of intimidation and targeting from the Internal Revenue Service. Witnesses described being sent hundreds of pages from the IRS asking invasive questions about members, books, contents of prayers and the names of anyone attending meetings, including children.
"The IRS sought documentation of our meetings, rallies, events, or candidate forums. That included video and audio transcriptions, notes, copies of all handouts; the political party of speakers, and an “issues” list. The IRS sought identifying information on employees; data on volunteers and members, plus Employer Identity Numbers (EINs) on businesses with which we associate. These are our donors. They have names: Mike, the printer, who gave us a discount on handbills; Dee, the beauty consultant, who donated posters for our Tax Day rallies and Greg, the electrician, who made a stand for our 9-11 banner out of pipes and wires," Leader of the San Fernando Valley Patriots Karen Kenney said. "My personal favorite was question No. 33, which in relation to protests asked for a listing of our “committed violations of local ordinances, breaches of public order or arrests” then requested details on how we “conduct or promote” illegal activities. I think the IRS needs to fix its labeling machine: We’re the San Fernando Valley Patriots, not Occupy Oakland."
President and Founder of Linchpins of Liberty Kevin Kookogey, a group dedicated to educating young people about limited government and liberty, described the damages incurred as a result of the IRS targeting through a loss of donations, loss of personal funds and long wait times.
"In order to raise money, I filed an application with the IRS in January 2011, seeking to obtain 501(c)(3) applications annually, and prior to 2010, the average time to process an application for an organization such as mine was between two and four months. As of today I have been waiting for twenty nine months," Kookogey said. "In the interim, I lost a $30,000 launch grant from a reputable non-profit whose Executive Director advised me that he never had seen such treatment of a 501(c)(3) applicant in his 25 years of making grants. I also lost and continue to lose multiple thousands of my own money, and had to cease any further official activity to fear the IRS would target me further for harassment."
Kookogey wasn't alone in his concern over future harassment. Wetumpka Alabama Tea Party President Becky Gerritson said she nearly gave up her application due to fears the IRS would target her volunteers and their families.
"My husband and I discussed forfeiting our application," Gerritson said. "I wasn't going to identify my volunteers....the questions were chilling."
President of the Coalition for Life of Iowa Susan Martinek described how the IRS essentially tried to censor her group's peaceful protest of Planned Parenthood.
"On June 22, 2009, IRS Agent Richards sent us additional written requests, as follows: 'Please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood are considered educational as defined under 501(c)(3). Organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) may present opinions with scientific or medical facts. Please explain in detail the activities at the prayer meetings. Also, please provide the percentage of time your organization spends on prayer groups as compared with the other activities of the organization. Please explain in detail the signs that are being held up outside of Planned Parenthood and explain how they are considered educational,'" Martinek said.
Planned Parenthood receives $500 million in taxpayer funds each year.
Three witnesses said they received letters directly from Lois Lerner, the director of tax exempt organization at the IRS in Washington D.C.
"I received a letter from Lois Lerner, dated March 16 th 2012, asking that I provide the previously requested information," Gerritson said. "We received a letter dated July 9, 2012 that received our 501c4 status. 635 days after we applied."
Originally, the IRS and the Obama administration argued IRS targeting was only conducted by a few low-level rogue agents in Cincinnati.
"I am not here today as a serf or a vassal. I am not begging my lords for mercy. I am a born free, American woman, wife, mother and citizen and I’m telling my government that you have forgotten your place. It is not your responsibility to look out for my well being or monitor my speech. It is not your right to assert an agenda. The posts you occupy exist to preserve American liberty. You have sworn to perform that duty. And you have faltered. The abuses I will discuss today occurred on your watch. It is your responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen again," Gerritson said through tears. "Using these agencies as weapons against citizens is scary and it feels like tyranny."