Tea Party groups plan legal action

Groups say they may seek damages over costs to comply with government demands.

A prominent Ohio conservative organization and 16 other Tea Party groups from across the country may sue the Internal Revenue Service after the federal government acknowledged the tax agency targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Such a suit, if filed, would ask for damages that could include the cost of complying with IRS demands and the loss of donors reluctant to give to an organization without tax-exempt status, said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, who represents the groups..

The Ohio Liberty Coalition would be among the Tea Party organizations involved in the lawsuit. Tom Zawistowski, former president of the coalition, complained to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, in 2012, after he was sent a list of questions in response to the group’s request to become a 501 (c) 4 organization. Zawistowski said that the questions were “intrusive” and “overly burdensome.”

Speaking at a news conference, Sekulow said the IRS may face even greater threats than possible civil suits, saying that the threat of criminal charges “is real and serious.”

The news conference featured Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Tea Party leaders, including Zawistowski, now the executive director of the Portage County Tea Party.

Talk of a lawsuit emerged as Portman wrote President Barack Obama to ask if any “private pressure was exerted by the White House or Treasury Department political appointees on the IRS regarding the standards for approving and monitoring tax-exempt organizations.’’

In the sharply worded letter, Portman wrote that the White House has referred to many of these tax-exempt conservative organizations as “shadowy groups” who pose a “threat to democracy.” Portman added that “it is easy to imagine how such rhetoric from the top could possibly influence the work of an executive branch agency.’’

In a conference call with Ohio reporters, Portman said it was difficult to believe — as Obama stated earlier this week — that the president only learned last week about the IRS questions directed at conservative organizations. Portman reminded reporters of a March 2012 letter he and 11 other Republican senators wrote then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman about complaints voiced by Tea Party organizations that they were being bombarded with questions by the IRS in their request for tax-exempt status.

“This has been an issue kicking around for over a year,’’ Portman said.

Obama Thursday named Daniel Werfel, a senior White House budget aide, as acting commissioner of the IRS. Obama on Thursday announced that his administration had dismissed Steven Miller, who had served as acting IRS commissioner.

According to a report on ABC News, Miller’s term as acting commissioner was scheduled to expire on June 8 of this year.

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