published Sunday, May 12th, 2013

IRS took years to OK Chattanooga Tea Party's tax-exempt status

  • photo
    Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West on Saturday welcomed news that Congress may investigate the IRS after the agency admitted it targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

West said the Chattanooga Tea Party is among the 75 groups the agency admitted last week were victims of deliberate bureaucratic foot-dragging.

"It's a scandal. It is the heavy-handedness of a bureaucratic government agency that has gone awry," West said by telephone.

He noted that House Republicans are talking of holding hearings and said people of all political persuasions should support them.

"If they can do it to grass-roots tea party groups one year, they can to it to left-wing Occupy Wall Street people the next year. Either way, it's wrong," West said.

"Unless there's an investigation and heads roll, unless some people lose their jobs over this, then we know this is just political. They got caught; they were going to feign an apology and move on."

He said the Chattanooga Tea Party filed its application for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status in 2009. He said the IRS "stonewalled and delayed" and asked "inappropriate" questions of the fledgling group. In mid-2011 or early 2012, with no ruling on the application, the agency wrote asking for additional information, West said.

Meanwhile, tea party and patriot groups around the state and nation had begun comparing notes and concluded the foot-dragging was deliberate.

In March 2012, U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker were among those who signed a letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman seeking assurance that patriot and tea party groups were being treated fairly.

Alexander and Corker both issued statements Friday about the revelations.

Corker said the IRS admission "is outrageous, disturbing, and will further erode Americans' trust in the federal government."

He called for "swift and decisive action" to "punish those responsible and to assure the American people that these actions will not be tolerated at the IRS or any other federal agency."

Alexander said: "This is the United States of America, where the First Amendment protects our right to organize and speak up and speak out, and it's shocking to learn that the IRS arbitrarily targeted any peaceful political organization for ideological reasons." He supported the call for a congressional investigation.

West said it's only in the last month or so that the IRS granted the Chattanooga Tea Party's exemption. He said the agency refused to make it retroactive to 2009, when the application was filed, but only to 2012.

"They're not making wrong right as far as we're concerned," he said.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@times freepress.com or 423-757-6416.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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