Ohio Tea Party Groups Plan To Sue IRS

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UPDATED: Thursday May 16, 2013 5:58 PM

The attorney for Ohio's largest tea party organization, the Ohio Liberty Council, says the organization will sue the Internal Revenue Service.

"Tea party groups in Ohio are going to sue the IRS for violating their First Amendment rights, freedom of association, and their Fifth Amendment rights when it comes to selective prosecution, or singling out," said Maurice Thompson of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law.

Thompson says the grounds for the lawsuit will include three key elements.

First, tea party groups want compensated for financial loss caused by, in some cases, up to three years of harassment. Second, they want a court precedent so this can never happen again. Third, they want those in the IRS responsible to be punished.

"The IRS strung out certain groups for as long as three years," said Thompson.  "Then, they would send a letter saying you have ten days to answer these 50 very intrusive questions or else you lose your application."

Tom Zawistowski, head of the Portage County tea party, said he applied for tax exempt status with the IRS in 2009.

"It really was a nightmare," said Zawistowski.  "After years, they came back with requests for - give us a list of all your members, tell us every politician that ever spoke to your group and what they spoke about, give us a list of all the speakers you've ever had speak to your group, give us a copy of every page of your webpage in paper, (and) print out every page of your Facebook page."

A report from the Treasury Department's Inspector General last week blamed "ineffective management" at the IRS for the unfair targeting of conservative political groups.

It says the agency "allowed inappropriate criteria to be developed and say in place for more than 18 months" causing "substantial delays" for tea party groups applying for tax exempt status.

Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown told 10TV he's not happy with the IRS employees that singled tea party groups out.

"The IRS went after some small organizations because of their political philosophy instead of looking at the big organizations that were spending millions of dollars in special interest money," said Brown.

IRS commissioner Steven Miller resigned Wednesday.  Brown says there may be more resignations coming.

"If there were other people in management in the Washington IRS, if there are people who broke the law or engaged in this type of behavior, the president should consider asking them to resign," said Brown.

Thompson says his lawsuit will include up to 20 smaller Ohio tea party groups that lost donations, had to increase their administrative expenses, or hire an attorney due to the lengthy IRS process.

"The tea party movement was huge in Cincinnati in 2010 and 2011, and these agents are driving to work like everyone else, listening to talk radio, hearing about the tea party and all their activities," said Thompson.  "It might be the case the Cincinnati office had a special alert for the tea party, but I wouldn't be surprised if higher-ups were involved in this."

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