Tea Party and conservative groups had a chance yesterday to discuss being targeted by the Internal Revenue Service yesterday before the House Ways and Means Committee. What they told members during the hearing indicates a broader scandal than the IRS and the White House want to admit:
Internal Revenue Service targeting of political groups was not limited to front-line employees in the agency’s Cincinnati, Ohio, office, according to testimony before a House committee on Tuesday.
One group that testified at a Tuesday hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee told members that the 29-month delay in its yet-unapproved tax-exempt status application was the result of orders from higher-ups at the agency.
“Contrary to the statements of [IRS tax exempt division head] Lois Lerner, the targeting of Linchpins of Liberty was not merely the independent act of a few agents in Cincinnati,” testified Kevin Kookogey, the group’s founder and president.
When Kookogey asked a Cincinnati IRS agent about the delays in his application, he was told, “We have been waiting on guidance from our superiors as to your organization and similar organizations.”
Kookogey says he did not know “from where this ‘guidance’ was coming, [but] it was clearly implied that it was not from down the hall.”
The leaders of the organizations not only discussed the long-term delays in approval of their tax-exempt status, but also went into detail with members of the committee about the invasive queries and requests from the IRS, which included requests for donor information, names of members, meeting minutes, and much more. Becky Gerritson of the Wetumpka (AL) Tea Party leader told the committee that she received a letter from the IRS that was signed by Lois Lerner, the embattled director of the agency’s Tax Exempt Division who is currently on administrative leave.
Gerritson got emotional during her testimony as she described the harassment her organization experienced from the IRS. “I’m not here as a serf or vassel,” she said as she fought back tears, “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.”
“It’s your responsibility to look out for my well-being and to monitor my speech. It’s not your right to assert an agenda. Your post — the post that you occupy — exists to perserve American liberty. You’ve sworn to perform that duty, and you have faltered,” she added.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) actually had the audacity to blame the groups for the targeting because they sought tax-exempt status. While he said the tactics employed by the IRS were “unfair” and “wrong,” McDermott said the agency was right to question whether tax-exempt status should be given to organizations engaging in political activity and invoked the names of George W. Bush, who appointed Doug Shulman to head the IRS, and Newt Gingrich, who he randomly mentioned had an ethics violation when he was in office.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) fired right back McDermott. “Welcome to Washington,” said Ryan in response to McDermott’s comments. “We heard Gingrich. We heard Bush. We had the former IRS commissioner Shulman who knew about the political targeting long before was Congress was told, and has since implied that they were responsible for the targeting because they chose to apply for tax-exempt status.”
“So you are to blame, I guess, is the message here,” added Ryan, who was clearly taken aback by McDermott’s remarks. He asked one of the Tea Party leaders why she believed they were targeted. “Our beliefs; our views,” she replied. Ryan went onto express outrage that a government agency would use its power to intimidate groups that had a certain set of beliefs.
The hearings are another part of the congressional investigations into the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups. Congress will continue looking into the matter, absent support of an independent investigation from the White House.