ACLJ Now Represents 41 Conservative Groups in Federal Lawsuit Against IRS
Today, the ACLJ filed an amended lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. – adding an additional 16 Tea Party and conservative organizations, including a pro-life group, to the complaint – bringing to 41 the total number of organizations represented in the court challenge. On May 29, 2013, the ACLJ filed the initial lawsuit on behalf of 25 organizations arguing top Obama Administration officials – including those at the Internal Revenue Service – violated the constitutional rights of the groups by secretly targeting these organizations because of their political beliefs.
“The floodgates opened after we filed our initial lawsuit,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. “We have been contacted by many additional organizations that have been unlawfully targeted by the IRS – revealing that this unconstitutional scheme was pervasive and damaging to our clients. As Congress continues its investigation, and as we expand our federal lawsuit, we’re confident that the truth will be revealed and important questions answered: How did this targeting scheme begin? Who ordered it? How could the White House counsel and White House chief of staff know about this tactic but the President did not? We remain dedicated to ensuring that those responsible for this unconscionable scheme are held accountable.”
The amended complaint, which adds 16 organizations to the original list of 25 groups, argues that IRS officials “working in offices from California to Washington, D.C., pulled applications from conservative organizations, delayed processing those applications for sometimes well over a year, then made probing and unconstitutional requests for additional information that often required applicants to disclose, among other things, donor lists, direct and indirect communications with members of legislative bodies, Internet passwords and usernames, copies of social media and other Internet postings, and even the political and charitable activities of family members.”
Among the organizations added to the complaint is a pro-life group singled out because of its opposition to abortion.
The ACLJ contends the group, AMEN (Abortion Must End Now) – based in Yuma, AZ – was singled out because of its name and because the group is “focused on defending the Sanctity of Life and to put an end to abortion once and for all” and intends to “provide education . . . about the effects of abortion and to present pro-life brochures.” The group applied for 501(c)(3) status in 2010 and its application is still pending.
In a letter dated October 20, 2010 to AMEN, an IRS specialist in the Cincinnati office questioned the appropriateness of the organization’s goal to provide education and awareness about its beliefs that human life must be protected. In fact, the letter stated that IRS policy draws a bright line – classifying certain activities as political rather than educational – even questioning the organization’s communication strategy and content.
The IRS letter to the pro-life group stated that the communication method used by the group “will not be considered educational . . . if it fails to provide a development from the relevant facts that would materially aid a listener or reader in a learning process.” The IRS letter also cautioned against using what it termed as “strong emotional feelings” in an organization’s messaging.
“This is outrageous,” said Sekulow. “Now we have evidence that the IRS is somehow uniquely qualified to make a determination about content and regulate how a pro-life organization can explain its mission and beliefs. Imagine the outcry if Planned Parenthood or NARAL was subjected to this abuse. This is another blatant example of an IRS out of control – an agency that embraces unlawful and unconstitutional conduct.”
The ACLJ also argues that another organization – the Arlington Tea Party of Arlington, TX – received harassing and invasive questions from the IRS. In a letter dated February 16, 2012, an IRS specialist demanded that the group provide “a temporary Username and Password that we could use to review your organization’s website.” The IRS also demanded “hardcopy printouts” of its social media pages, copies of all solicitations and documents concerning the organization’s fundraising activities “in an election year and non-election year,” and “copies of handouts to the audience” and “workshop materials that instructors will use” at the organization’s public events. The Arlington Tea Party applied for 501(c)(4) status in 2011 and the case is still pending.
The amended lawsuit, posted here, urges the court to find that the Obama Administration overstepped its authority and violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as the IRS's own rules and regulations. The lawsuit requests a declaratory judgment that the Defendants unlawfully delayed and obstructed the organizations’ applications for a determination of tax-exempt status by means of conduct that was based on unconstitutional criteria and impermissibly disparate treatment of the groups.
The suit also seeks injunctive relief to protect our clients – and their officers and directors – from further IRS abuse or retaliation. Further, the lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive monetary damages to be determined at trial at a later date.
According to the complaint: “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 to responding to onerous and targeted IRS information requests that were outside the scope of legitimate inquiry.”
The ACLJ now represents a total of 41 organizations in 22 states in the lawsuit. The names of the organizations represented are available here. Of the 41 groups, 19 organizations received tax-exempt status after lengthy delays, 17 are still pending, and 5 withdrew applications because of frustration with the IRS process.
The IRS contends that the targeting scheme originated with a couple of rogue IRS agents out of the Cincinnati, Ohio office and contends the abusive conduct has been halted. However, the ACLJ has correspondence showing this tactic was used not only in the Cincinnati office, but also from two offices in California – El Monte and Laguna Niguel – as well as the national office in Washington, D.C. In fact, the Washington office sent a letter to one of our clients as recently as April 2013.
Furthermore, the ACLJ has letters signed by Lois Lerner, Director of Exempt Organizations, suggesting her personal involvement in sending invasive questionnaires to 15 of our clients in March 2012 - some nine months after she was told about the scheme and promised to stop it.
The ACLJ has heard from nearly 120,000 Americans calling on President Obama and members of Congress to end the IRS abuse.