Lawsuits Put Pressure on Obama Administration for IRS Scandal

Image: Lawsuits Put Pressure on Obama Administration for IRS Scandal

Wednesday, 23 Oct 2013 02:53 PM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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The IRS targeting scandal that erupted last spring seems destined to return to the headlines after being lost in the news of Obamacare mishaps, the government shutdown, and the crisis in Syria.

A number of lawsuits filed by conservative groups, along with investigations headed by Congressional Republicans, are pursuing angles that are sure to extract more information about the administration's targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is seeking answers about redacted emails – obtained while the government-shutdown drama was unfolding – showing that IRS officials shared confidential taxpayer information with White House aides. Issa has asked IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel about IRS officials' use of private emails to relay the confidential data to White House officials.

While two Congressional committees held hearings in September, additional hearings are not scheduled at present time, senior staff members for the House Ways and Means and Oversight committees told Newsmax, adding that is subject to change as circumstances warrant.

Julia Lawless, press secretary for Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, tells Newsmax that they are moving "full-speed ahead" with a bipartisan investigation.

Meanwhile, lawsuits are piling up by groups who say they were adversely affected by the IRS policy.

The American Center for Law and Justice last week expanded its filing against the Internal Revenue Service to include additional defendants because of new information that the IRS targeting of conservative groups was politically motivated.

ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow said in a statement that the group's lawsuit was amended because the "intimidation campaign conducted by the IRS is much more politically motivated and coordinated than previously thought."

The ACLJ's suit was initially filed in federal district court in the Eastern District of Virginia in May on behalf of more than 40 tea party and conservative groups who allege they were targeted by the IRS when seeking tax-exempt status.

Sekulow, writing this week on FoxNews.com, placed the blame for the IRS targeting scandal squarely on President Barack Obama for creating a climate which encouraged the bureaucracy to go after his political opponents.

"The IRS was doing little more than focusing its attention exactly where the president of the United States told it to focus – on the groups the president himself identified as a 'threat to democracy,'" Sekulow said.

Earlier this month, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) filed suit in federal court, saying its confidential tax information was leaked to political opponents.

Yet another lawsuit has been filed against the IRS in the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati by the Citizens for Self-Governance and other groups. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, which had its tax filings leaked to the Texas Observer, recently announced they had joined the lawsuit.

ACLJ's amended lawsuit provides additional evidence of what ACLJ claims was a "coordinated, highly partisan attack on conservative and tea party groups."

In addition to naming more IRS employees to its defendant list, the complaint adds an additional claim for violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The suit is seeking injunctive relief to shield the plaintiffs against further retaliation or abuse by the IRS and is also seeking compensatory and punitive monetary damages to be determined at trial at a later date.

NOM's lawsuit against the IRS, announced on October 3, is seeking damages over the illegal release of its 2008 confidential tax return to the Human Rights Campaign, an organization frequently at odds with NOM over gay marriage and whose president was a national co-chair for Obama's re-election campaign.

"We have irrefutable proof that NOM's confidential tax return was released by the Internal Revenue Service and went to the number one opponent of marriage, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) whose former president was a national co-chair of President Obama’s reelection campaign. The HRC promptly published it and released it to the media," NOM President Brian Brown said in a statement.

The House Oversight Committee has taken an interest in the case, issuing a letter to IRS Inspector General J. Russell George requesting "all documents relating or referring to the tax-exempt application filed by NOM in unredacted form."

NOM Chairman John Eastman tells Newsmax that filing a lawsuit was necessary since the Justice Department was not taking action in the matter.

"There are two legal remedies to the illegal release of taxpayer information – prosecution by federal authorities of the individuals who leaked the information and civil action," Eastman said.

"That could result in a $1,000 fine for each illegal act, but this is not about the money. We are pursuing the civil action as a means to turn up the heat on those who illegally disclosed this information. It is the only statutory option that we have at the moment because Justice has stonewalled us for the last two years," Eastman said. Leaking private tax records is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Eastman added: "So far the IRS and Obama administration officials have stonewalled our every attempt to get information and they have done the same to Congress. All we want are answers to the question of who knew what and who had any information or involvement in this crime."

The leaked, confidential information included a list of NOM donors to the Human Rights Campaign, who then shared the NOM tax filings with The Huffington Post. That data appeared in the 2012 story, "Mitt Romney's PAC Funded Anti-Gay Marriage Group Under the Radar."

Eastman notes that the former chairman of the Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solomonese, was a co-chair of Obama's re-election campaign. Eastman also said the administration has been "unbelievably uncooperative."

"We have been trying to obtain information through the Freedom of Information Act, but now [Justice] is claiming that the same federal law that they broke in releasing our tax information is being used to protect the persons who committed this crime," Eastman said. "It is the most Orwellian interpretation of federal law that I have ever seen."

According to Eastman, since the disclosure in 2012, NOM has filed numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the status of the investigation to no avail. And earlier this summer, says Eastman, the IRS adopted a unique legal stance.

In its June 25 correspondence with NOM, the IRS contended it "can neither admit nor deny the existence of any records responsive to your request. … Information concerning potential non-tax Title 26 violations … constitute the return information of the person(s) being investigated."

In essence, the IRS is using the same law pertaining to release of tax information that was violated when NOM's tax filing was leaked in order to protect those who might be under investigation for leaking the data in the first place.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, echoed Eastman's astonishment in a statement a day after the lawsuit was filed.

"The unauthorized release of confidential information is a crime and those affected deserve answers, not the runaround. What makes the situation even worse is that the law, intended to protect taxpayers, is being used as a shield for those that perpetrate this wrongdoing," Camp said.

While Eastman says his organization has not been harassed further, he said he is aware of individual donors on their list that have received contact from the IRS.

In addition, other conservative groups have experienced harassment since news broke of IRS targeting conservative and tea party groups.

In August, the Thomas More Society submitted an update to Republican Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which included over 230 pages of documentation "showing that the federal government is still interrogating pro-life groups beyond the scope of its legal authority."

"Despite claims to the contrary, the IRS continues to target and harass pro-life and conservative charities, illegally questioning their religious activities and withholding their tax exemptions," Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel of the Thomas More Society, said in a statement.


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