(Reposted; original post ran here on the Hayride May 17. We thought we’d bring it back to the forefront in light of yesterday’s testimony at the House Ways and Means Committee which shed a lot of light on the treatment various conservative and Tea Party activists endured at the hands of the IRS, the upshot of which that a lot of the failure of many Tea Party groups to grow had to do with the ringer the Obama administration put them through as they sought 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 status so as to facilitate fundraising…)
As American citizens, we all, I would respectfully suggest, maintain hope that our own federal government—which itself creates nothing but instead feeds voraciously of off the prosperity created by the sweat equity of millions of Americans—would treat its citizens fairly.
And, while we treasure our constitutional form of government with the rough and tumble a representative democracy entails, we maintain faith that our federal government will treat all parties similarly.
And, while legislation and policy are made by the Executive and Legislative branches, we trust our federal agencies to execute that policy equitably.
We have seen evidence to the contrary this week.
In order to be certain that our organization did not run afoul of any tax rules, our Red River Tea Party (RRTP) decided to seek tax exempt status as a 501 C 4 under the IRS tax code as a “social welfare organization” – a definition we felt we easily met. We applied for the exemption on April 9, 2010.
I preface my explanation below by pointing out that the national Tea Party movement is a grassroots phenomenon. The movement came into existence in early 2009 when we realized the Obama Administration was spending and regulating in a manner that is dangerous for our nation’s economic strength and prosperity—and threatening our ability to preserve the American way of life.
Further, by definition, a grassroots organization springs from the most local levels. It involves typical American citizens who, by gathering and speaking out on issues of importance, are doing nothing more than exercising several constitutional rights including the freedom of speech and expression, free exercise of religion, freedom of association and petitioning our government for a redress of grievances, among others. Most Tea Party organizations amount to nothing more than civic groups, community organizations. We are certainly not for profit and we are also not sophisticated businesses that maintain detailed records of every activity or undertaking of the organization. Rather, our groups are comprised of individuals who work and support families and then devote any free time they may have beyond that to their Tea Party group. Any time we needed funds to host a rally or purchase a liability policy for a given public event, pay to rent a room to hold our Constitution Class, host a forum, a lecture or advertise a food drive we planned to undertake, advertise the existence of our group or print educational materials on various topics, we merely “passed the hat” at one of our meetings requesting funds from our members.
For these reasons, the requirements put upon us were very difficult to comply with because they required, among numerous other things, that we “must fully describe all of the activities in which” we expected to engage, “including the standards, criteria, procedures or other sources of receipts, and the nature of contemplated expenditures.”
Well, as a simple, local civic organization we pondered these demands. We really did not know all of the activities in which we expected to engage, must less the standards, criteria, procedures or other sources of receipts we might be lucky enough to raise or exactly the nature of the contemplated expenditures. We knew only that our mission was an educational one and that we would periodically need modest funds to undertake our efforts. Further, we could not list “all our sources of revenue” because we did not know what they might be. Regarding our fundraising, we were expected to “provide copies of all solicitations” we had made; provide “all” documents related to our fundraising events. The demand for information also included “all fundraising expenses.”
Ominously in our view, the IRS letter to us also stated that “the website indicates you will protect and preserve the Constitution.” Because of this we were expected to provide a listing of “all of your past activities”; the percentage of time we spent conducting each activity and the percentage of funds spent conducting each activity. Another question demanded to know “…all issues that are important to your organization …and indicate your position regarding each issue.”
With respect, this information is none of the IRS’ damn business! If the IRS wants to know what we believe some agents should attend our meetings or rallies. We are very clear about what we believe.
What I have listed above is merely illustrative of the information sought by the IRS before it would consider granting us tax exempt status. Other questions involved seeking materials for every educational event we had conducted, including date of and location of the event, nature of the event, revenue and event expenses; whether any candidates for public office had ever spoken to our group, who, when what they said as well as any video or audio recordings of our event; specifics about voter education activities, voter guides—publishing and distributing, and on and on and on.
These activities are unquestionably protected by the First Amendment as core political speech and having to endure the ordeal of meeting the demands of the IRS in order to gain tax exempt status is simply onerous.
After months of no communication followed by still other requests for information, we decided in September of 2012 to withdraw our application for tax exempt status.
From the beginning of the Obama Administration, the Tea Party movement in America has been treated with great animus and hostility. From Vice President Biden to former President Bill Clinton, to numerous members of Congress, to entertainment celebrities and so-called journalists, we have been demonized, cursed and treated with completely undeserved slurs and vulgarity. To expect us to believe that an Administration which acts in this fashion would also not seek to politicize the IRS such that Tea Party groups could not enjoy tax exempt status, is simply naïve. It is with great relief and a sense of vindication that this corruption has come to light.
UPDATE: See the nine-page IRS letter the Red River Tea Party was asked to comply with to receive 501(c)4 status here (file size: 3.5 mb).