IRS to Tea Party Groups: Tell Us Everything

Photograph by Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo

A Tea Party Express rally prior to the arrival of former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in Phoenix.

The Internal Revenue Service had questions. Lots of questions.

The U.S. tax agency has acknowledged targeting anti-tax groups with “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their names for extra scrutiny — an admission that has Congress asking questions of its own. It’s unclear whether the IRS actions were just inept, or malicious, Bloomberg’s Richard Rubin writes this morning.

IRS surveys sent last year to Tea Party groups across the country included queries aimed at discerning how election-focused the groups planned to be, according to a Bloomberg News review of about a dozen surveys. By law, political activities cannot be the “primary” purpose of a nonprofit.

Yet the IRS also had questions that, to Ohio Tea Party leader Tom Zawistowski,  felt “a lot like opposition research.” Here’s a look at some of the agency’s lines of inquiry:

Who do you know?

IRS employees wanted to learn more about who was training some of the newly formed Tea Party groups. They asked the Georgia Tea Party about its relationship with Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit formed more than a decade ago by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.

“Explain your relationship,” the IRS said in a Jan. 26, 2012, letter. And give us copies of any contracts with and training materials provided by Americans for Prosperity.

A Jan. 26, 2012, letter to the Hawaii Tea Party probed that group’s relationship with the Arlington-based Leadership Institute, which trains Tea Party activists, and with Dylan Nonaka, a Hawaii Republican activist.

Let’s talk about your family

That same letter to the Hawaii group asked about the group’s board members, officers, key employees and family members who work with other groups or might be interested in running for office.

A Feb. 8, 2012, IRS letter to the San Fernando Valley Patriots in California seeks resumes for past and present directors, officers and key employees. The agency also requested information about family and business relationships for each of those people.

Give us paper

Zawistowski and other Tea Party leaders said they were stunned by the amount of paperwork the IRS sought. Most of the surveys reviewed by Bloomberg included a request for hard copies of the groups’ web sites, including pages only members could access, and printouts of social media sites such as Facebook.

The IRS also wanted copies of all handouts and fliers produced by the groups. In some cases, Tea Party groups were asked to compile a dossier of all media coverage and contacts.

About your money …

“Provide copies of any agreements you have with others for provision of goods or services, sharing of facilities or other cooperative agreements, or anything else,” the IRS told the Waco Tea Party in Texas in a Feb. 1, 2012, letter.

Toby Marie Walker, president of the Waco group, said the request made her nervous because the same letter included a warning that all responses to the IRS would be made public. She said she worried that vendors aiding the Tea Party would face retaliation.

The San Fernando Valley group was asked to provide the IRS “details regarding all members’ fees and benefits” in addition to fundraising and expenditure information.

And, sorry this took so long

In a Jan. 9, 2012, letter to the Richmond Tea Party, the IRS thanked the group for its “thorough responses” some 14 months earlier. “Unfortunately,” the IRS wrote, “we now have some lapse of time.”

Now they needed more info.

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