The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) filed suit against the federal government and the Internal Revenue Service Thursday, claiming it had "irrefutable proof" someone within the agency illegally leaked the conservative organization’s confidential tax returns to its ideological opponents last year.
NOM is seeking damages from the disclosure, as well as to overturn a statute shielding the IRS from disclosing any information about the incident, according to a complaint filed by the Act Right Legal Foundation on behalf of NOM in the Eastern District of Virginia Thursday.
Recent Stories in Issues
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) obtained the NOM’s 2008 tax returns in February 2012, which contained an unredacted list of donors, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The president of the HRC became a national co-chair for the Obama reelection campaign in 2012 a day later.
NOM Chairman John Eastman said the group was able to remove redaction layers from the PDF documents that were leaked, showing that they came from within the IRS. The unauthorized disclosure of tax information is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
No criminal charges have been filed after 18 months. An internal investigation by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) was conducted, but the results were never released.
"So far the IRS and Obama Administration officials have stonewalled our every attempt to get information or answer basic questions about who knew what inside the IRS and who in the Obama administration had any information or involvement in this crime," NOM chairman John Eastman said in a statement. "Our lawsuit will be a powerful tool in ending the stonewalling and getting the truth to the American people."
Testifying before a congressional committee in May, acting IRS Commissioner Miller testified that he believed that TIGTA "found that those disclosures were inadvertent and there’s been discipline in one of those cases for somebody not following procedures."
NOM’s donor list, including home addresses and phone numbers, were also posted on The Huffington Post, which has refused to take them down. NOM claims in court filings that it lost contributions in excess of $50,000 as a result of the leak.
NOM said it filed several Freedom of Information requests to determine if someone within the organization sought the documents. The results came back negative.
The IRS came under fire this year for singling out conservative and tea party organizations for additional scrutiny, such as audits and long waits for tax-exempt status.
Several other conservative organizations have had confidential tax documents leaked over the past year, including donor lists being posted without redactions on GuideStar.
American For Prosperity, a conservative group tied to the billionaire philanthropist Koch Brothers, had its donor lists from 2003 leaked to GuideStar, where it was picked up by National Journal.
In another instance, investigative news outlet ProPublica received applications from 31 nonprofits from the IRS in November 2012, including nine that had not yet been approved and thus were not supposed to be made public.
All of the confidential applications belonged to conservative groups. One application leaked by the IRS was that of Crossroads GPS, the biggest spender among 501(c)(4) groups in the 2012 election cycle.
As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, ProPublica extensively covered so-called "dark money" conservative groups and donors during the 2012 election cycle, such as casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, while largely ignoring similar spending on the left.
Although the Cincinnati IRS office—the same office at the heart of the IRS "targeting" scandal—leaked the applications to ProPublica, an official IRS spokeswoman told the news outlet it would be a felony to publish them.
"As far as we know, the Crossroads application is still pending, in which case it seems that either you obtained whatever document you have illegally, or that it has been approved," Jonathan Collegio, the group’s spokesman, wrote to ProPublica in December.
Other groups had documents leaked in the midst of a bitter election year as well.
The IRS "inadvertently" published the donor list of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF)—a conservative think tank—on GuideStar in 2012.
The list quickly became fodder for left-wing opponents of the think-tank.
Senior Obama administration official Austan Goolsbee singled out Koch Industries, run by the Koch brothers, during a 2012 press conference and said it paid no income taxes.
Such tax information is supposed to be private, leading to accusations from Republicans and Koch Industries that the Obama administration illicitly looked at its tax filings.
Although TIGTA reportedly closed an investigation into Goolsbee’s comments, it refused to confirm or deny its existence in response to a FOIA request filed by the Free Beacon, citing a privacy exemption.
TIGTA and the IRS gave the same response to NOM after it filed FOIA requests seeking information on the illegal disclosure of its tax records.
According to TIGTA, a Watergate-era statute prohibits it from disclosing any taxpayer information, even to the target of unauthorized disclosures.
"The IRS is involved in a massive cover-up, and it's time to say, ‘no, this statute protects the taxpayers, not the IRS,’" Eastman said.
The Human Rights Campaign and the IRS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.