President Barack Obama a few months ago had to manage the early part o f what has become a developing story of the IRS putting an extra focus on a growing number of conservative groups who have become big donors the last couple election cycles. The IRS' officials especially those connected to the Cincinnati, Ohio branch did not make a rough situation any better by actions and statements.
That story has continued to linger throughout the summer as discussions have taken place and conservative groups especially those connected to the Tea Party movement have continued to call for some type of justice for what they see as unfair treatment. Thus, it should not be too surprising that some New Jersey Tea Party groups are wondering if they were targeted and have experienced some frustration the last few years with the IRS.
Those associated with the Bayshore Tea Party Group, East Jersey Tea Party, and West Jersey Tea Party complain that they have waited several months for the IRS to approve their applications for either 501c3 status to be considered a charitable organization or 501c4 status to be considered a non-profit organization.
Just recently, the American Tea Party Congress was given 501c4 status after nearly a year wait. The group is a non-profit affiliate of the Bayshore Tea Party Group.
As Treasurer Frank Gonzalez for the group voiced,
Our status is retroactive to April 2013. The turnaround for both nonprofit filings is supposed to be 90 days.
Gonzalez would add,
On May 13, we received acknowledgement from the IRS that they received our paperwork. On Dec. 18, 2011, I sent them a letter requesting satus, on July 12, 2012 I sent another letter, and on May 28, 2013 I sent yet another letter requesting status. I called the IRS and spoke to a supervisor, Bill Ackner. Ackner told me they have approximately 80,000 applications currently open, and that there’s only 200 IRS agents dealing with them.
The Bayshore Tea Party is still waiting for a response to its application for 501c3 status.
The West Jersey Tea Party has felt the same feeling of waiting for answers of their own.
As Bill Haney, a founder of the West Jersey Tea Party, would express;
We received a letter – we applied on Aug. 31 2010 and at that time we received a denial or a request for additional information on Jan 31 2012, 17 months after our application. Frankly, we didn’t think it was a big deal, we thought this was how long it takes to approve a non profit application.
He would continue,
There are 11 general topics, and embedded in each one of those topics is 4 or 5 sub questions, so there was a total of about 90 different items that we had to provide them. We looked at it, we gave everybody a copy, and we then put it to a vote for general membership and they unanimously rejected the idea of providing the IRS with any kind of information whatsoever.
The East Jersey Tea Party would also experience a long wait but would see a slightly different result than the other two as they were granted their status.
As past President Daniel Biringer would exclaim,
They were looking for statements supporting or opposing the election of candidates, and examples of whether we had supported or opposed candidates, whether we had given anyone financial support, what kind of advertising we did. It was a long, drawn out and complicated process – and that was no accident, it took us 20 months to get approved, it is an exceptionally long time.
In order for a group to receive 501c4 non-profit status, they must show that it spends less than 49% of its time and resources on lobbying activities.
Due to the increased engagement of the Tea Party in 2010 and somewhat in 2012, there was an increased watch on applications that featured Tea Party, Patriot or 9/12 Project according to the report given by the IRS inspector general. Additionally, any applications from groups that involved topics like the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, government spending, or taxation were examined a bit more strictly.
Hanley for one has taken exception with this approach and sees it as a clear violation of his group's First Amendment rights.
These guys were asking us to not speak to our congressmen and legislators, or if we did speak to them, provide written communication or content of other forms of communication. They wanted evidence of what we were doing, that is a violation of our First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights to be secure in our own person.
Gonzalez would add the importance of their status as part of their education process to those who join.
One way it is being used is to bring up the awareness of the general public is how the government’s processes work and how they were intended to work, and what can a family in need get from the government. We want to print materials and bring in speakers to teach what is it that senators and congressmen and politicians across the board are putting to paper that will become the ruling law for the population – people need to know these things. How the USA is going from where it is to where it will be in five, 10, 20 years.
Biringer would add;
A lot of people don’t think something is a legitimate charity unless it is approved by the IRS, so it is very difficult to raise money without that.
Gonzalez would echo the importance of non-profit status to have donors contribute and receive tax benefits by stating,
Any serious donor is also interested in deducting that donation. That is what why want the c3, and if we don’t have that, we are being stymied in terms of getting money that we could otherwise come up with. Also, there are some grants that you can get, if you are not a bona fide c3 or c4, you’re not going to get those grants because you don’t qualify.
Biringer would highlight another issue that the groups have faced due to their delay in getting their desired status and dealing with the application process: a decline in membership.
The request for members’ information I think drove some of our membership down, people are fearful of being targeted by the IRS. Every meeting I have a small update on our status, I assure them no member information has gone to the IRS, and people are very nervous about this. I get questioned all the time, ‘what information did you give them about me?’ People are afraid, and they shouldn’t be afraid of their government.
Despite the setbacks and delays, the leaders associated with the three groups are still energized.
As Hanley would point to,
If anything it has made it more vibrant, more pointed, more vociferous. We took this as a personal affront once we heard that the IRS was in fact targeting us, not just us, but conservative voices across the country.
Most of what the IRS has been guilty of doing took place three years ago and they have also not always been kind or fair to some non-conservative groups, but this developing story of the last few months will certainly keep the three New Jersey groups going. They will look to energize and mobilize their members and continue to fight for the statuses they firmly believe are justly theirs since they have put the time in and given more than enough to the IRS. Time will tell if they see progress with the IRS and what moves they may make in the Garden State to bring more attention to their fight.