The targeting of a conservative Hollywood group in its filing for tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service proves that "this IRS scandal is not in the past tense," Washington attorney Cleta Mitchell told Newsmax on Friday.
"This is still ongoing," Mitchell, who has represented about a dozen conservative groups that have come under scrutiny by the agency, told Newsmax in an exclusive interview. "I know of organizations who still do not have their tax-exempt status — and they requested it more than three years ago.
"The IRS is still, very deliberately, targeting conservative organizations and subjecting them to additional intense and burdensome scrutiny — and this has not stopped," Mitchell said. "This is still ongoing."
The Hollywood group, the Friends of Abe, has about 1,500 members and has been shrouded in secrecy since it was informally established a decade ago for fear of a backlash from powerful movie industry liberals, The New York Times reports
The group is being investigated by the IRS after applying for tax-exempt status two years ago.
Friends of Abe, named after Abraham Lincoln, is seeking 501(c)(3) status — allowing members to claim a tax deduction but strictly barring the group from partisan political activity, the Times reports.
The group is working to protect the identity of its members — though some of its more vocal ones on conservative issues include actors Gary Sinise, Jon Voight, and Kelsey Grammer, and singer Pat Boone.
In its inquiry, the IRS recently asked Friends of Abe to provide information about its meetings with such GOP politicians as 2012 vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, former Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, and 2012 presidential hopeful Herman Cain, the Times reports.
"Certainly, it's been a long process," Jeremy Boreing, Friends of Abe's executive director, told the Times of the IRS investigation.
"Friends of Abe has absolutely no political agenda," he said. "It exists to create fellowship among like-minded individuals."
Representatives of several Friends of Abe members either declined to comment to Newsmax or did not respond to requests seeking comment.
Ofer Lion, the lawyer representing Friends of Abe in its IRS application, declined to comment on the matter to Newsmax.
Meanwhile, Mitchell told Newsmax in her interview that the queries the IRS have made to Friends of Abe smack of those posed to conservative, tea party, and religious groups that were targeted between 2010 through the 2012 presidential election.
In fact, an IRS agent told the House Ways and Means Committee last August that the agency still placed groups with such words as "tea party and "patriot" in their names on a "be on the lookout" — or BOLO — list for additional screening in its applications for tax-exempt status.
Those disclosures came
three months after the agency said it had stopped targeting the groups.
"It is a lawless agency that is being driven by the Obama administration, which is intent upon silencing conservatives," said Mitchell, considered one of Washington's most respected elections attorneys. "That's the point — and it hasn't stopped, and they’re getting more and more brazen."
For instance, the IRS issued new proposed regulations
the day after Thanksgiving that would prevent groups seeking 501 (c)(4) tax-exempt status — not as restrictive as the status being sought by Friends of Abe — from running television ads, organizing get-out-the-vote efforts or voter registration drives, or handing out literature on any political issue.
The public comment on those proposed rules ends on Feb. 27.
"These proposed regulations are quite frightening," Mitchell told Newsmax. "They really are trying to shut down all grass-roots lobbying, all grass-roots organizations. That's what they're intent on doing."
Perhaps what is most disturbing about the Friends of Abe matter is that the IRS is, essentially, auditing the group's activities — not just its finances, she said.
"It's just an example of the fact that, when you apply for exempt status, you shouldn't have to exist for two or three years and let the IRS basically conduct a program audit to see what you're doing. That is not the way it is supposed to work.
"What these people have been doing is conducting audits without any of the restrictions on audits to the actual auditing staffs, without any safeguards regarding confidentiality — plus, these people don't know what they're doing," Mitchell said.
"It's all coming out of Washington. Remember, this is all coming out of Washington. It is not coming out of Cincinnati. It was never coming out of Cincinnati."
Shortly after disclosures of the IRS targeting, news reports surfaced that employees in Cincinnati were singling out the conservative groups.
But Mitchell told Newsmax
last May that a Cincinnati worker said that applications by two of her conservative clients were being processed by — and would ultimately be approved or denied in — Washington.
Moreover, the long-term effect of such IRS scrutiny will be to drive conservative organizations like Friends of Abe underground, she said.
"This has actually forced them to be underground. I have actually heard from some tea party groups — they just never open a bank account, because they don't want to have to ask the government for permission to do anything.
"They just do what they do, and they have different people pay for things. If you really want to function, it's very restrictive.
"That’s what's getting ready to happen with a lot of groups, as the IRS is trying to put them out of business," Mitchell told Newsmax. "The Christians continued to meet, even though they were getting thrown in prison and fed to the lions.
"I guarantee that citizens in America are not going to be silenced, but they will be driven underground by this administration until somebody decides to free us."
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