IRS treatment of local tea party unfairPublished 8:46am Thursday, June 6, 2013
“I’m not here as a serf or a vassal,” Wetumpka Tea Party founder and president Becky Gerritson told congressmen Tuesday morning.
Then her voice began to break as deep emotions welled up.
“I’m not begging my lords for mercy. I’m a born-free American woman, wife, mother and citizen. And I’m telling my government that you’ve forgotten your place.”
With that opening statement Gerritson added Wetumpka conservatives’ tale of clerical nightmares to the congressional record of the ongoing scandal into the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of groups seeking non-profit status in the run-up to the 2012 election.
Gerritson was in Washington to respond to the revelation last month that the IRS played favorites in granting the coveted 501(c)4 non-profit status. The status, which allows for tax exempt status and keeps donors’ names confidential, was granted in short order for “progressive” groups and those aligned with the Democratic Party, while delaying and requiring additional information from those expressing conservative or Republican viewpoints.
She was joined by five other leaders of local tea party organizations, as well as from an Iowa group opposed to abortion and a group resisting the push for homosexual marriage.
When Gerritson initially applied for 501(c)4 non-profit status with the IRS, she was told to expect an answer in 90 days. But it was 459 days later before the IRS next contacted her. Meanwhile, dozens of similar sized groups on the other side of the political spectrum were granted the status by the same Cincinnati field office during the same period.
But that much-awaited response was an ominous letter from IRS “exempt organizations specialist” Stephen Seok. It claimed the office needed “more information before we can complete our consideration of your application for exemption.”
The questionnaire she was asked to complete included 10 questions, with various subheadings that added up to 90 demands for extensive information into the local group’s donors, its volunteers and its political activities.
Gerritson testified about the treatment of the group’s application Tuesday morning at a hearing of the House Ways and Means committee alongside leaders from other conservative groups with similar experiences.
The IRS demanded the Wetumpka Tea Party send copies of every advertisement, flyer and web or email posting since the group’s inception in 2009. They wanted lists of every speaker and forum panelist, and to “provide detailed contents” of their messages. Any time Gerritson, her husband Eric, or other members contacted an elected official — “direct or indirect” — the IRS demanded “copies of the written communications and contents of other form of communications.”
To fully respond to each question, the all-volunteer organization would have needed to invest upward of 1,000 man-hours, Gerritson said. Fellow panelist Sue Martinek, of the Coalition for Life of Iowa, joked she “should have bought stock in Kinkos” considering how much time she spent there making copies attempting to comply with the IRS demand.
John Eastman, in his testimony on behalf of the National Organization for Marriage, described his horror at seeing a document containing detailed information on NOM donors posted on the website of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group he considered his chief political adversary.
Such stories were the chief concern Gerritson expressed over the questionnaire demanding such detailed information on WTP’s members, volunteers and donors.
Gerritson and other panel members described the debilitating effects of having their applications delayed, noting that many large donors require a 501(c) status before their boards will allow them to contribute. The delays limited their ability to fund larger educational efforts in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election, in which President Barack Obama won reelection handily.
While her fellow panel members provided the ominous facts and consequences that underlay the “additional scrutiny,” Gerritson’s testimony provided the emotional punch. She explained how she and her husband found themselves marveling at an out of control government, spending trillions on bailouts and “mortgaging America’s future” with deficit spending.
And how on that first tax day, hundreds gathered by the Coosa River, without concern for political party, to share their concern about the nation’s direction.
“In Wetumpka we are patriotic Americans; we peacefully assemble; we petition our government; we exercise the right to free speech; and we don’t understand why our government tried to stop us,” she said.
David D. Goodwin is political editor of The Wetumpka Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.