IRS keeps Albuquerque Tea Party in limbo 5 years after tax-exempt status application

IRS keeps Albuquerque Tea Party in limbo 5 years after tax-exempt status application

By Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times – Monday, January 12, 2015
Before there were the lost Lerner emails, the congressional hearings and the retaliatory budget cuts, there was the Albuquerque Tea Party, a group of politically minded folks in New Mexico who wanted to get together and share ideas for taking back their country. The IRS had other ideas about them.

Five years after the Albuquerque Tea Party applied for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, they remain in limbo — their application apparently no closer to being approved or denied than it was the day they mailed it to the IRS on Dec. 29, 2009.

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“If the IRS, with its massive staff, read only 1/2 of a page daily of all the paperwork we have had to send them, they could have read it all three years ago,” Rick Harbaugh, secretary of the board of the Albuquerque group, said in an email describing his group’s five-year battle with the tax agency.

Worse yet, he said, they still don’t know why they were targeted in the first place, and every explanation from the IRS — that the targeting was by low-level employees in Ohio, for example — has been wrong. Mr. Harbaugh said they have letters from the Treasury Department saying their file was being reviewed in Washington.

The targeting exploded onto front pages in May 2013 after Lois G. Lerner, head of a division charged with scrutinizing applications for tax-exempt status, planted a question at a law forum so she could break news of the activity.

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She was trying to beat an inspector general’s report due out a few days later, which said the IRS singled out hundreds of conservative and tea party groups for intrusive scrutiny and refused to approve those applications, which had piled up for years.

In the 20 months since, most groups whose applications were held up have been approved. They include the NE Tarrant Tea Party in Tarrant, Texas, which was approved in December after a four-year wait.

Julie McCarty, an official with NE Tarrant, said the organization learned about its approval from its attorney at the American Center for Law and Justice.

It’s unclear what triggered the IRS to approve the group after years of waiting. Ms. McCarty said the most recent reply to the IRS included nearly 600 pages of documents submitted a year and a half ago.

“All the back and forth questions were just stall tactics,” she said in an email. “I mean, come on — they’ve been targeting us for four years.”

The IRS, citing taxpayer privacy laws, said it cannot comment on the delays in specific cases such as the Albuquerque Tea Party or NE Tarrant.

In its latest public data on the tea party targeting scandal, from just before Christmas, the agency said nine organizations that were part of the initial backlog of 145 targeted groups were still awaiting final decisions.

Of the 136 cases that had been cleared, 104 of them were approved. The others were a mix of groups that withdrew their applications — often citing the long wait — or groups that didn’t respond to IRS questions, which the agency took as an indication that they were no longer seeking tax-exempt status.

As of April, the agency had formally denied three of the applicants after years of waiting.

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