Internal Revenue Service targeting of political groups was not limited to front-line employees in the agency’s Cincinnati, Ohio, office, according to testimony before a House committee on Tuesday.
One group that testified at a Tuesday hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee told members that the 29-month delay in its yet-unapproved tax-exempt status application was the result of orders from higher-ups at the agency.
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"Contrary to the statements of [IRS tax exempt division head] Lois Lerner, the targeting of Linchpins of Liberty was not merely the independent act of a few agents in Cincinnati," testified Kevin Kookogey, the group’s founder and president.
When Kookogey asked a Cincinnati IRS agent about the delays in his application, he was told, "We have been waiting on guidance from our superiors as to your organization and similar organizations."
Kookogey says he did not know "from where this ‘guidance’ was coming, [but] it was clearly implied that it was not from down the hall."
Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.), chairman of the committee, said in his prepared remarks that witnesses’ testimony showed "that the IRS’ practice of treating certain Americans differently on the basis of their beliefs was not limited to the discriminatory conduct revealed by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s recent report," which set off the current controversy.
Kookogey and other witnesses revealed Tuesday that IRS targeting of conservative groups extended beyond applications for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.
The IRS, witnesses said, applied additional scrutiny even to 501(c)(3) charities, which by their nature are less political than (c)(4) advocacy groups, whose donations are not tax deductible.
"Unlike many of the other groups facing similar harassment from the IRS, Linchpins of Liberty is seeking 501(c)(3)—as opposed to 501(c)(4)—status, and we do not use the words ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in our application," Kookogey testified.
"We do, however, share one common trait with most of those groups: Our ideas," Kookogey said.
Like many Tea Party groups, Linchpins of Liberty is devoted to the study of Western and American political thought.
"We aim to mentor high school and college students in conservative political philosophy, engaging them with the great books and teaching them about America’s moral and constitutional order," Kookogey said in his written remarks.
That focus earned the Linchpins of Liberty, which Kookogey says is blatantly not a political advocacy group, the ire of the IRS.
According to the TIGTA report, the agency explicitly targeted groups devoted to "educating on the constitution and bill of rights" for additional scrutiny in their tax-exempt status applications.
Kookogey says the 29-month—and ongoing—delay in the approval of its (c)(3) status cost Linchpins of Liberty a $30,000 launch grant. The grant-making group’s executive director "advised me that he had never seen such treatment of a 501(c)(3) applicant in his 25 years of making grants," Kookogey testified.
Linchpins of Liberty was not the only (c)(3) to receive heightened scrutiny.
Susan Martinek, president of the pro-life 501(c)(3) Coalition for Life of Iowa, testified that the IRS "refused to grant approval until our group … agreed to surrender our First Amendment rights of assembly, free speech, and religious expression" by demanding she testify under oath that her group would not protest Planned Parenthood clinics.
Martinek’s group contracted the services of the public interest law firm the Thomas More Society.
"The IRS granted us tax-exempt status just one week after our Thomas More Society attorney sent in [a] letter to IRS Agent Richards" defending the group’s constitutional rights.