Non-profit groups aligned with conservative causes appeared Tuesday before the House Ways and Means Committee, claiming that the IRS actively persecuted them.
Congress got an education from the six witnesses, even if almost no new information surfaced about the motives behind the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups that applied for tax-exempt status. Names of IRS employees were disclosed and timelines provided, but the explanations of what happened and why remain murky.
Their remarks revealed the full extent of the ideological divide across the United States. The two sides are essentially speaking a different language. Democrats don’t see a grand conspiracy, since no evidence has been uncovered of outside political pressure being applied to the IRS. They largely perceive this as a management problem caused in part by poor guidance and the use of “social welfare” charities for overtly political purposes.
The groups targeted, as along with sympathetic Republicans, perceive a lethal assault on the Constitution, which they are determined to fight against.
“This dialogue is about the jackboot of tyranny upon the field of our founding documents,” said Karen Kenney of the San Fernando Valley Patriots, which represents some two million Tea Party members north of L.A. “To whisper the letters I-R-S strikes a shrill note on Main St., USA, but when this behemoth tramples upon America’s grassroots, few hear the snapping sounds.”
When the IRS scandal erupted last month with the audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, there was condemnation by all sides. The IRS officials involved admitted to gross errors in judgment, without quite acknowledging who should be held accountable.
For the organizations allegedly targeted, the demand for mounds of paperwork about donors and activities by the IRS was proof of a voracious and oppressive government.
“I thought we lived in a free republic,” said Dianne Belsom of the Laurens County (SC) Tea Party. “Our country has turned a corner into tyranny.”
“The irony is that it’s happening right under our noses,” added Kevin Kookogey, founder and president of the Linchpins of Liberty, of Franklin, TN.
“Is this limited to the IRS?” asked John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, suggesting that the FBI and ATF had also launched politicized investigations. “This is the beginning of a thread on a sweater that is just unraveling.”
Eastman noted how his organization’s confidential tax records about its donors had been leaked to the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that supports same-sex marriage. When asked why his contributors who oppose gay marriage deserved to be anonymous under the law, Eastman said, “So that they don’t get harassed.”
Republican lawmakers were quick to agree with these sentiments.
“The testimony has been breathtaking,” said Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH).
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) asked if the IRS had frightened any of the panelists.
“What is the most alarming and most scary is when you allow the government to go so far, they go farther,” answered Becky Gerritson of the Wetumpka Tea Party of Wetumpka, AL. “And pretty soon, we’re in tyranny.”
“That’s exactly what these hearings are about,” Brady responded.
Democrats pushed the argument that these “social welfare” charities were inherently political and that their donors should not be anonymous under the tax code.
“None of your organizations were kept from organizing, or silenced,” said Jim McDermott (D-WA). “Each of your groups is highly political, from opposing the president’s health care reform to abortion to gay marriage.”
Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, the committee’s ranking Democrat, opened his round of questioning with a warning. It largely went unheeded over the next few hours.
“The more we deal with conjecture, the less likely we are to get the facts,” he said.