The scandal over the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups is set to widen as evidence grows that the agency probed activists connected to the organizations.
New congressional investigations and federal lawsuits are likely to reveal more about the extent and purpose of the targeting, beginning with a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Tuesday that will allow victims to testify for the first time, the McClatchy Company reports.
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Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general who is probing IRS activities, has acknowledged he is looking into watch lists created by IRS employees, who allegedly asked for detailed information from groups applying for nonprofit status that had words such as "tea party" and "patriot" in their names.
McClatchy cites several cases of conservatives who claim the IRS treated them inappropriately, including a group of anti-abortion activists in the Coalition for Life of Iowa, a voters' group in Texas, and a Nebraska veteran who joined tea party groups after retiring from the military.
Sue Martinek of Cedar Rapids told McClatchy that she first sought tax-exempt status for the Coalition for Life of Iowa in 2008, contacting a woman in the IRS' Cincinnati office, which is at the center of the scandal, identified only as Ms. Richards.
In early 2009 Richards told her that the group's application had been approved but only on the condition that board members signed a letter promising not to picket in front of Planned Parenthood offices, Martinek recalled.
"I was sort of, 'If we have to, we have to, but this doesn't seem a good thing to do,'" she said, adding that her group focused on educational forums rather than protesting.
Catherine Engelbrecht of the Texas group True the Vote told McClatchy that her family and business were audited by the government after the voting-rights group sought tax-exempt status.
Engelbrecht said that after witnessing what she called voter irregularities in the Houston area, she formed True the Vote, which aims to educate poll workers nationwide on spotting election fraud. She denies liberal claims that it is a conservative effort to restrict minority-voting rights.
Six months after applying for nonprofit status in the summer of 2010, Engelbrecht and her husband faced their first-ever audit. IRS agents "came to a small family farm, counted the cattle, looked at the fence line," she said.
Then, in February 2012, the IRS sent a letter with 39 questions, including a request for "all of your activity on Facebook and Twitter." Last week, with no decision yet on its application, True the Vote filed a lawsuit in federal district court asking for tax-exempt status.
Retired veteran Mark Drabik told McClatchy that he found the IRS challenging his church donations after he became active in and donated to conservative causes.
After retiring in 2009 from a long career in the military, Drabik said he took a job at the Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb., and began taking part in conservative political activities, attending tea party events and donating to talk-show host Glenn Beck's 912 movement.
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Then, Drabik says, he got an audit letter from the IRS, questioning him about church donations and deductions for family respite care prescribed by a doctor because of the stress of caring for his autistic son. He said he had claimed both for a decade without issue.
Drabik told McClatchy he believes his political involvement triggered the audit, saying, "I am just a common citizen, who honorably served his nation for 23 years, who has not had this experience before and now honestly questions the actions and motivation of the IRS and how far they have gone in their actions." Drabik is now fighting the agency over a sum of roughly $20,000.
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