The Tea Party, The IRS ‘Scandal’ — And The Actual Facts Of The Case

Rather than the so-called IRS scandal cooked up by Tea Party groups and their partisan supporters, the real criticism of the IRS may be that it has permitted so many of these groups to obtain tax-exempt status despite apparently egregious violations.

Source: National Memo

Author: Devin Burghart

While it is well known that the so-called IRS scandal has been used by Tea Partiers to bash the IRS, less well known are the actual facts of the case.

Specifically, while the IRS delayed confirming the tax-exempt status of some groups, and some also faced additional scrutinynot a single Tea Party organization was denied tax-exempt status.

A May 14 draft report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that none of the 296 questionable applicants had been denied: “For the 296 potential political cases we reviewed, as of December 17, 2012, 108 applications had been approved, 28 were withdrawn by the applicant, none had been denied, and 160 cases were open from 206 to 1,138 calendar days (some crossing two election cycles).”

In fact, the only known 501(c)(4) applicant whose request for tax-exempt status was recently denied happens to be a progressive group: the Maine chapter of Emerge America, which trains Democratic women to run for office. Although the group did no electoral work, and didn’t participate in independent expenditure campaign activity either, its partisan nature disqualified it from being categorized as working for the “common good.”

The Inspector General’s report found that in the “majority of cases, we agreed that the applications submitted included indications of significant political campaign intervention.” In fact, only 91 of the 296, or roughly 31 percent of the applications reviewed for the report, did not have “indications of significant political campaign intervention.” In other words, more than two-thirds of groups flagged for processing by a team of specialists had those indications.

That sort of political campaign intervention would normally disqualify a group from 501(c)(4) status, but the deluge of Tea Party applications combined with the politicization of the process has allowed them to slip through. A closer look at the activities of some of the Tea Party groups that are currently under review or have received non-profit status from the IRS reveals a difficult and potentially dangerous situation.

The First Coast Tea Party Inc. of Jacksonville, Florida, for example, which applied for 501(c)(4) status in 2009 — and received it in 2011. Commenting about the recent IRS controversy on Facebook, the group declared “We file a tax return, account for every penny. We do not endorse candidates, that is a no no.” Yet the First Coast group has boasted about directly helping Republican campaigns. In an August 30, 2012 Facebook post, for instance, the group advertised a Jacksonville rally for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan, adding, “bring your chairs and your signs, make sure they know that the First Coast Tea Party is and has been helping their campaign.”

Three weeks later, the same group declared a “state of emergency” on Facebook, pleading with supporters to campaign for Romney: “FLORIDA FRIENDS, IF YOU LIVE IN ANY OF THESE 3 COUNTIES GET OFF THE COUCH NOW, GET YOUR FRIENDS OFF THE COUCH. GET TO THE REPUBLICAN HEADQUARTERS AND OFFER AND THEN DO SOME WORK. PHONES, (YOU CAN EVEN DO THESE CALLS FROM HOME) AND WALK AND KNOCK. NOW. WE CANNOT LOSE FLORIDA TO OBAMA.. NOW. THIS IS MOST CRITICAL [emphasis in original].” These weren’t posts from some random supporter on the group’s Facebook page; they were posts from the official account of the organization.

Similarly, the IRS granted 501 (c)(4) tax-exempt status to the Louisville Tea Party in 2009.  The same group published a list of “officially tea party endorsed candidates for the 2011 Kentucky primary.” They also published an article headined “The Rationale for Romney-Ryan,” arguing that Tea Partiers should vote for the Republican candidate.

Then there is the Katy Tea Party Patriots, which filed for 501(c)(4) status in 2009. This group actually ran an “Oust Obama 2012” campaign, organizing block-watching with the Fort Bend GOP and phone-banking against Obama at GOP headquarters in Sugarland and Houston, Texas. Still featured on the front page of the group’s website is an October 4, 2012 article titled “Our Country’s Future,” by Katy Tea Party Patriots president Darcy Kahrhoff, who urged members to vote for Romney. “Please take time to talk with friends and family you may have living out of state, and try to convince them to vote for Governor Romney, especially if you have friends and family in Florida, Colorado, or Ohio. Also, find a Senatorial candidate to support in these states, and go to FreedomWorks to phone bank for these patriots.  Everything you can do to help will matter.  We can, and we must, win this!

Not to be outdone was the Central Valley Tea Party Inc., a regional California Tea Party group that won the much more politically restrictive IRS 501(c)(3) tax status in 2009.  It should be noted that 501 (c)(3) status explicitly prohibits any partisan political activity.  “Under the Internal Revenue Code,” as the IRS explains, ”all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to all campaigns including campaigns at the federal, state and local level. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

Despite its 501 (c)(3) designation, the Central Valley Tea Party group appears to have been involved in partisan political activity. Currently, the front page of the group’s website features “upcoming events” instructing members to “Volunteer for Measure G,” and “Volunteer for Vidak for Senate.” In the latter case, the website simply instructs members: “Please volunteer to do phone banking or precinct walking to help win the election.”

Further stretching IRS regulations, the same group’s newsletter endorsed and advertised conservative candidates. In an article in the October, 2012 issue of the Central Valley Tea Party Times – headlined ”Why You Should Be Excited to Vote for Mitt Romney” — Paul Szopa told fellow Tea Partiers to get out and campaign for the Republican presidential candidate. “So it’s time to get excited to vote for the better candidate. It’s time to talk him up to friends and family. It’s time to join with groups like Operation Swing State ( and make calls in support of his candidacy.” Published on the front page of the newsletter was a “Voter Guide” that seemed even less ambiguous, listing all the candidates that the group recommended as well as their positions on all of the ballot measures.

The newsletter also featured advertisements for conservative candidates. The April-June, 2012 edition of the Central Valley Tea Party Times carried an ad for Whelan for Congress on page 27, another for Frank Bigelow for the 5th District California Assembly seat on page 38, and an ad “Elect Richard J. (Rick) Farinelli, Madera County Supervisor District III” on page 39.  The newsletter’s August-September, 2010 edition featured an ad for Diane Lenning, a write-in candidate for California Superintendent of Public Instruction; so did the October-November, 2010 edition.

Another Tea Party group granted the 501(c)(3) non-profit status by the IRS, is the Tifton, Georgia-based Tiftarea Tea Party Patriots, Inc., which received the designation in 2010. This group too appears to have engaged in openly political activity, including publicly endorsing candidates. On October 9, 2012, in a post on its website — “Are you ready to vote?” — the Tiftarea group strongly endorsed Romney: “The choice is simple. Obama has stated, He will transform America and acted to do such. Everything this Administration stands for, is Government and control of every aspect of life.  This is the pipe dream of a Socialist’s mentality, for in their eyes, you the individual, do not know and cannot do, what is right, so someone else has to make decisions for you, to ensure, you do not make the wrong choices or actions. Or you chose Romney, who does not want to transform America, the greatest nation in history of human kind.  He wants to allow, the individual, to have the right, to succeed and fail on his own regard, while ensuring those freedoms, given by our Creator and to assure those inalienable rights, written about in the Declaration of Independence are retained by their proper owners, ‘We the People.’”

These are but a few of the many examples of political intervention by Tea Party non-profits catalogued by IREHR. There are many, many more and they’re not difficult to find. Rather than the so-called IRS scandal cooked up by Tea Party groups and their partisan supporters, the real criticism of the IRS may be that it has permitted so many of these groups to obtain tax-exempt status despite apparently egregious violations.

After the firing of several high-level IRS employees over this incident, how likely is it that Tea Party groups will be sanctioned for these kinds of violations in the future?

This is adapted from a special report of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. To request a printed version of the report, complete with exhibits, please email the Institute at


Emphasis Mine


Is the Tea Party Over?

The answer all depends on what you mean when you say the words ‘Tea Party.’


In a word, “No!”  In many words:

By:Adele Stan

“There’s a new parlor game in your nation’s capital, played by reporters and pundits who begin with a single question: Is the Tea Party dead? Endlessly entertaining to ponder, it’s a question whose answer depends on your definition of the Tea Party movement.

Are you talking about the 900 grass-roots Tea Party groups in 2010 whose numbers have now dwindled to 600? Or the popularity of the movement among most Americans?

Or do you measure the “Tea Party” as a marketing plan by the right wing in its 50-year quest to bend the Republican Party to its will and bring the nation to its knees?

Miss Uncongeniality

The new year kicked off with a poll that brought a smile to progressive faces: Rasmussen Reports, the Republican-tilting polling firm, found membership in the Tea Party movement among likely voters to have plummeted [3] to a mere 8 percent. That’s a steep drop from 2010 when, just after the passage of the health-care reform law, Rasmussen reported 24 percent of respondents calling themselves Tea Party members.

Even worse for those who don the tricorn hat is Rasmussen’s finding [3] that half of the likely electorate now views the Tea Party unfavorably, while only 30 percent express a favorable opinion of the movement. So, game over, right?

Not quite. The day after Rasmussen released its numbers, Roll Call, a sort of trade publication for political types, ran a story [4] with the title, “Tea Party Re-Flexes Its Muscle,” about the coming battles in Washington over the debt ceiling and spending, and fearsome threats by Tea Party groups to Republicans who dare to compromise with the president.

Muscle-Flexing or Rigor Mortis?

The difficulty in assessing the viability of the Tea Party movement lies in a range of available metrics that are in conflict with each other.

In the 2012 Senate races, the Tea Party failed pretty miserably, throwing its weight behind such self-immolating figures as Todd “legitimate rape” Akin and Richard “gift from God” Mourdock.

Yet, in the House, most of the Tea Party members elected to Congress in 2010 held onto their seats. One need only look at the fate of legislation floated by House Speaker John Boehner — a measure dubbed “Plan B” that would have extended the Bush-era tax cuts on all but those with an annual income of more than $1 million — to see the power of the Tea Party crowd under the Capitol dome.

How can it be that a movement rejected by 70 percent of the electorate continues to hold such power? The answer is two-fold: gerrymandering and the threat of the primary challenge.

Primary Punishment

There’s little doubt that the Tea Party movement is a bit of a mess these days, with grassroots activists sometimes shunning the label [4], while the astroturf groups that organized them grapple with internal tension.

FreedomWorks, until recently chaired by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, is riven by internecine warfare between Armey and two staffers who functionally run the organization: President Matt Kibbe and Vice President Adam Brandon. (Mother Jones has the goods, here [5].) FreedomWorks was instrumental in organizing protests against the health-care reform bill, and in delivering a “power center,” in Brandon’s own words, of Tea Party-allied lawmakers to the Senate in 2010, through the power of the primary challenge. When FreedomWorks chose Rand Paul to challenge Trey Grayson in the Kentucky Republican primary for U.S. Senate, its candidate defeated the pick of Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, in his own state.

Americans For Prosperity, the other major player on the Tea Party landscape and the pride of right-wing sugar daddies Charles and David Koch, is said to be in reassessment mode after the failures of the 2012 elections. Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel and Katie Glueck report [6] that:

…sources say AFP’s 2012 efforts, in which it spent $140 million on a combination of ads and on-the-ground organizing, are being reviewed as part of a broader Koch-network-wide audit that could result in funding changes in the billionaire brothers’ political operation [7].

Yet in the same article, Vogel and Glueck note that although AFP has reportedly let go of much of its field staff, Tim Phillips, the group’s president, says he is considering involving the group more explicitly in primary races.

While FreedomWorks, Americans For Prosperity and Tea Party Express are the national groups that come to mind when discussing the Tea Party, there’s another player less wed to the brand that is at least as responsible for the primary-challenge strategy that has given the movement its primary punch: the Club for Growth.

On the day after the 2012 election, four glum-looking right-wing leaders gathered before a podium at the National Press Club at the behest of Richard Viguerie, an old hand at fundraising for right-wing movements.

In his opening remarks, Viguerie repeatedly used language that wed the Tea Party to the broader conservative movement, and disparaged what he called “the Republican establishment” for lining up behind Mitt Romney as the party’s nominee.

“Far from signalling a rejection of the Tea Party or grassroots conservatives, the disaster of 2012 signals the beginning of the battle to take over the Republican Party and the opportunity to establish the GOP as the party of small government and constitutional conservatism,” Viguerie said.

As evidence of his movement’s strength, Viguerie listed a number of Tea Party-allied Republican politicians, including the newly elected Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Rep. Trey Radel of Florida. Of the 14 pols cited by Viguerie as proof of Tea Party/conservative muscle, only one, Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, was elected without backing from the Club for Growth.

A recent article [8] by Politico’s Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen reveals the Club’s role in electing what the cohort dubbed “the hell no caucus” by the reporters, by directing its largess to contested Republican primaries, and betting on the most conservative contender. From Politico [8]:

Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, a veteran of two wars and with a pair of Harvard degrees, got a pleasant surprise last year that helped him win a very competitive Republican primary — and then a very easy general election. It was a FedEx envelope full of checks that he didn’t ask for, from a group he hardly knew — the Club for Growth.

Tucked inside that envelope and several to come were $300,000 in checks from Club members, enough to help lift the 35-year-old former Army captain from obscurity — and 47 percentage points down in his first internal poll — to the fourth floor of the Cannon House Office Building.

Among the right-wing leaders who spoke at the Viguerie press conference was L. Brent Bozell III, who was careful to note that he appeared not in his guise as president of the Media Research Center (the post for which he is best known), but as the chairman of ForAmerica, his political advocacy organization. At the National Press Club event, Bozell articulated an agenda, characterized as mandatory for any Republican, crafted in language that appeared to come directly from Club for Growth literature — especially the austerity plan described as “cut, cap and balance” (meaning, cut and cap spending, and balance the federal budget).

In case Mitch McConnell missed the horse’s head at the foot of his bed when his hand-picked Senate candidate was vanquished by Rand Paul in the 2010 primary, Bozell’s group is now running ads [9] accusing the Senate’s top Republican of “selling out,” according to a report [9] by Amanda Terkel in the Huffington Post, for signing on to the deal that allows the Bush-era tax cuts to expire on the incomes of wealthy taxpayers.

The Redistricting Ruse

The gerrymandering of congressional districts is nothing new, and both parties do it. But with record numbers of governors’ mansions and state legislatures in G.O.P. hands — the result of decades of work by the organized forces of the right — and the ruthlessness with which Republicans have shown themselves willing to manipulate the vote, the ritualredrawing of districts [10] that follows the national census resulted in landscape so skewed that Republicans held onto a majority of seats in the House of Representatives even though Democrats won the majority of votes by a margin of 1.1 million [11].

In North Carolina, for example, it would have taken three times as many votes for a Democrat to win a House seat as it did for a Republican, according to this chart [12] by Mother Jones’ Jaeah Lee.

With congressional districts drawn in such hyper-partisan ways, each uber-Republican congressional district becomes such a festering little petri dish of intramural competition at primary time that the launching of a primary challenge is not such a heavy lift, especially if the Club for Growth sends you a FedEx mailer full of checks. The primary becomes the real contest, since the districts are drawn to comprise mostly people who would never vote for a Democrat, meaning that these districts are made up of the most rightward-leaning voters — low-hanging fruit for a right-wing primary challenger.

In this way, I’ve argued before, the right wing of the G.O.P. acts as a virus on the body politic, injecting its DNA into the host body of the Republican Party which, thanks to the combination of extremely partisan redistricting and the willingness of a right-wing minority within to attack party leaders, then spreads the malicious effects of the virus on the rest of the nation.

A Brew By Any Other Name...

When the Tea Party first emerged on the scene, celebrated as a bright, shiny new object by the corporate media, we at AlterNet were not taken in. This was nothing more, we said, than a new brand stamped on the same movement once known as the New Right, a force that first made its presence felt in the failed 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater, and reached a crescendo in the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency.

Take Viguerie, for example. In 1961, he served as the first executive secretary of William F. Buckley’s Young Americans for Freedom, and by 1965 had launched his first strategic marketing firm for the right. He went on to help found the religious right in the late 1970s, after failing to win the presidential nomination of George Wallace’s American Independence Party.

Instrumental in helping Reagan win the presidency through his prowess as a direct-mail marketer, Viguerie became known as Reagan’s “postmaster general.” Also instrumental in Reagan’s victory was the organizing of white, right-wing Christian evangelicals through the Moral Majority, a group Viguerie helped to found.

On September 11, 2009, the day before the Tea Party movement first took to the streets of Washington in a show of force, Viguerie was already on the scene, in a Washington, D.C., hotel meeting room, conducting a free workshop in political organizing for Tea Partiers who had come to town for the march. Attendees were given a bright yellow nylon drawstring sack emblazoned with the “Don’t Tread on Me” snake of the Gadsden flag, and a free copy of Viguerie’s book, America’s Right Turn.

He’s just one of many right-wing leaders who saw the potential of the early Tea Party protests as a rebranding vehicle for the right. Dick Armey, sitting at the helm of FreedomWorks, surely did, as did Americans for Prosperity’s Tim Phillips, the former business partner of Ralph Reed, who served as executive director of the Christian Coalition during that group’s heyday. And a PAC once known as America Deserves Better renamed itself the Tea Party Express.

So, is the Tea Party dead? The brand itself may be on the wane, but the forces that made it strong have not gone away. After all, there’s money to be made in consulting fees and big-ticket salaries at the top of the right’s non-profits. (Sen. Jim DeMint recently left the U.S. Senate to take the top post at the Heritage Foundation, where he will reportedly earn $1 million per year.)

And there’s still work to be done in purging the Republican Party of any politician who might wish to strike a deal on anything that might be beneficial to the broadest base of the American electorate — work that Viguerie and his allies have been doing for the last half-century.

“The battle to take over the Republican Party begins today, and the failed Republican leadership should resign,” Viguerie said at his press conference the day after the American people re-elected President Barack Obama. “But of last night’s disaster comes some good news, however; conservatives are saying never again are we going to nominate a big-government, establishment Republican for president. And what’s more, we won’t have to.”

Call it the Tea Party, or call it something else, the right has gotten its hooks into the body politic, and it’s not letting go anytime soon.

Emphasis Mine