Last December, we updated you on our work in representing many Tea Party and other conservative groups from across the country in response to IRS refusal to grant tax-exempt status to these organizations.
Many Tea Party and conservatives groups were originally targeted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) earlier last year, but later won tax-exempt status after more than a year-long fight by the ACLJ.
In March of last year, ACLJ Senior Counsel David French told you that the ACLJ had been contacted by dozens of Tea Party and other conservative groups who received intrusive demands from the IRS - demands that seriously implicated the First Amendment rights of these organizations and their members.
This unprecedented attempt to request an overly burdensome amount of information from the IRS came after the individual organizations had filed their applications for 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.
These intrusive requests included demands for information that had already been provided with these organizations’ initial submissions. Last Spring, we posted some of the most egregious questions taken directly from several of the IRS information demands here.
After an extensive review of these requests last year, we assembled a team of attorneys along with our Government Affairs staff in our office in Washington, DC, to engage these important Constitutional issues and immediately put the IRS on notice concerning our representation and our clients’ rights.
As of this past week, two more groups were granted their tax-exempt status. To date, a total of 14 out of the 25 Tea Party and conservative groups that the ACLJ represents have been granted their tax-exempt status. We are thrilled with the success that we are achieving for our clients. We still have a few more to go, but we are confident that each and every one of our clients will receive a positive determination from the IRS before our work on this issue is over.
More than a Year-long Process
As a recap to this past year’s efforts on this front, when these groups submitted their initial requests to the IRS, the IRS did little or nothing with respect to their submitted applications and, in some instances, waited for over 18-20 months to respond.
Once we informed the IRS of our representation of these groups, within days of our taking action we began to receive a high level of cooperation from the agency with regard to these organizations’ files.
In many of these cases, the IRS retracted and withdrew their original questions that they demanded of our clients and replaced them with much more concise requests for additional information that excluded many of the most troubling requests.
The IRS’s Requests Were Troubling
Our original assessment of these cases last year raised serious Constitutional concerns. These intrusive requests for extreme amounts of information - in their content, breadth, and vagueness - implicated the free speech rights of our clients and their organizations. As we stated before, requests for the personal information of the organization’s membership lists ran afoul of NAACP v. Alabama and implicated their rights to freedom of association.
The original demands made of our clients were not in response to complaints of wrongdoing but instead in response to applications for exemption.
As we noted in our extensive coverage of this story last year, the IRS appeared to have been 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 implicated the First Amendment rights of all citizens.
The ACLJ’s Road to Victory after Victory
Once we were retained, the ACLJ made a comprehensive assessment of the IRS’s overly burdensome requests and we aggressively met them head on.
We first determined which IRS requests we found to be within the legitimate scope of IRS inquiry. We then began to provide the IRS with a comprehensive legal response to and good faith compliance with these requests for additional information from our clients. Where the request was unduly burdensome, exceeded the scope of legitimate IRS inquiry regarding a 501(c)(4) or 501(c)(3) application, and/or violated the First Amendment or other rights of the organization and its members, however, we declined to provide such information and instead raised the appropriate legal defense.
Over the past few months, we have filed dozens of responses with the IRS regarding the rights of our clients and our legal team is days away from filing the remainder of responses to the IRS on behalf of those organizations who are still waiting on approval of their original applications.
Your Role in Our Success
In the last year, we’ve already seen almost 52,000 Americans sign on to our petition demanding that Congress conduct oversight hearings on this IRS action. Our government affairs team has reported that staffers in various congressional offices have been very pleased to see the success that we have achieved in getting these group’s tax-exempt status approved. Your support has allowed our team to provide effective representation to these groups across the country.
We are confident that the remaining groups that have not received a complete and fair review of their application will successfully finish this process with the tax-exempt status that they were seeking. If you haven’t added your name yet to our petition, please do so here. Meanwhile, we will continue to aggressively defend our clients’ Constitutional rights and will keep you informed of any new developments in these cases as we see these issues through to the end.
This article was written by ACLJ Attorney Miles Terry.