The Wetumpka Tea Party Inc., along with other groups, is suing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for exerting excessive scrutiny on applications for tax-exempt status. Witnesses testified June 4 at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing. The sandal continued with revelations of extravagance at the IRS.
In early 2012, the IRS asked Becky Gerritson of Alabama to provide lists of volunteers and donors in order to complete her application for tax-exempt status for the Wetumpka Tea Party Inc., an organization founded by Gerritson and her husband.
She received a request from the IRS listing 90 different pieces of information, including detailed content of all speeches and the names of speakers who host the group as well as the content of communication with members of any legislative body, including her own congressional representative.
“Government agents made invasive and excessive demands for information they were not entitled to,” Gerritson said to the House Ways and Means Committee.
At first dismayed by the list they were asked to supply, Gerritson and her husband considered withdrawing the application, but they were convinced that the questions were inappropriate and instead sought legal counsel. They and other targeted groups are now suing the IRS.
Speaking at the hearing, Gerritson said, “I am telling my government that you have forgotten your place. … It is not your right to assert an agenda.”
“The post you occupy exists to preserve American liberty,” she added. “You’ve sworn to perform that duty, and you have faltered.”
House Ways and Means is looking deeper into the scope of the IRS’s scrutiny of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said that he wants to find out when special attention to conservative groups began, who ordered it, and how widespread the targeting became at the IRS.
Six groups spoke Tuesday, including the Wetumpka Tea Party, the Laurens County Tea Party, the San Fernando Valley Patriots, and the Linchpins of Liberty. All are party to the lawsuit against the IRS filed by the American Center for Law and Justice.
The hearing came just one day after the new head of the IRS acknowledged to Congress Monday that American taxpayers no longer trust the IRS amid a growing number of scandals—from the targeting of conservative political groups to lavish spending on employee conferences.
IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel promised the transparency that has been lacking for several years, as Tea Party groups complained about harassment by the IRS only to be met with denials from the agency.
Werfel has been to Capitol Hill to ask for a big budget increase. President Barack Obama requested a 9 percent increase in IRS spending for the budget year starting in October, in part to help pay for the implementation of the new health care law.
“We will have to think very carefully about how much money to provide to the IRS,” said Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.
The revelations have prompted investigations by three congressional committees and the Justice Department. Treasury Department Inspector General J. Russell George is also continuing his review.
A new inspector general’s report released June 4 states that the IRS spent $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012.
The conference spending included $4 million for an August 2010 gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for which the agency did not negotiate lower room rates, even though that is standard government practice, according to a statement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Werfel has called the conference “an unfortunate vestige from a prior era.”