Victory! IRS Admits Tea Party, Other Conservative Groups Were Targets During Obama Era
It took many years to resolve. But I am delighted to report that we have just obtained a resounding victory in our legal challenge to the IRS’s political targeting of conservative organizations.
In an unprecedented victorious conclusion to our four year-long legal battle against the IRS, the bureaucratic agency has just admitted in federal court that it wrongfully targeted Tea Party and conservative groups during the Obama administration because of their political viewpoints and issued an apology to our clients for doing so. In addition, the IRS is consenting to a court order that would prohibit it from ever engaging in this form of unconstitutional discrimination in the future.
In a proposed Consent Order filed with the Court yesterday, the IRS has apologized for its treatment of our clients -- 36 Tea Party and other conservative organizations from 20 states that applied for 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) tax-exempt status with the IRS between 2009 and 2012 -- during the tax-exempt determinations process. Crucially, following years of denial by the IRS and blame-shifting by IRS officials, the agency now expressly admits that its treatment of our clients was wrong.
The IRS admits that its treatment of Plaintiffs during the tax-exempt determinations process, including screening their applications based on their names or policy positions, subjecting those applications to heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays, and demanding of some Plaintiffs’ information that TIGTA determined was unnecessary to the agency’s determination of their tax-exempt status, was wrong. For such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology.
In addition to the IRS’s admissions of and apology for its wrongful conduct, the Consent Order would specifically award Plaintiffs the following:
· A declaration by the Court that it is wrong to apply the United States tax code to any tax-exempt applicant or entity based solely on such entity’s name, any lawful positions it espouses on any issues, or its associations or perceived associations with a particular political movement, position or viewpoint;
· A declaration by the Court that any action or inaction taken by the IRS must be applied evenhandedly and not based solely on a tax-exempt applicant or entity’s name, political viewpoint, or associations or perceived associations with a particular political movement, position or viewpoint; and
· A declaration by the Court that discrimination on the basis of political viewpoint in administering the United States tax code violates fundamental First Amendment rights. Disparate treatment of taxpayers based solely on the taxpayers’ names, any lawful positions the taxpayers espouse on any issues, or the taxpayers’ associations or perceived associations with a particular political movement, position or viewpoint is unlawful.
In the Order, the IRS has also agreed that (unless expressly required by law) certain actions against the Plaintiffs– i.e. the sharing, dissemination, or other use of information unnecessarily obtained by the IRS during the determinations process (such as donor names, the names of volunteers, political affiliations of an organization’s officers, etc.) – would be unlawful. In addition, the IRS promises not to take any retaliatory action against our clients for exposing the targeting scheme.
Finally, and of crucial significance, the IRS admits it targeted conservative and Tea Party groups based on their viewpoints (i.e., “policy positions”) and that such viewpoint discrimination violates fundamental First Amendment rights. This is the first time the IRS has admitted that its targeting scheme was not just “inappropriate” – as TIGTA found – but, as our clients alleged and we have vigorously and persistently argued for years, blatantly unconstitutional.
To ensure consistency and uniformity within the agency’s operations going forward, the IRS is required, pursuant to the Order, to inform all employees within the Exempt Organizations Division, as well as the Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners within other divisions, of the Order’s terms.