The Internal Revenue Service apologized Friday for subjecting Tea Party groups to additional scrutiny during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.
The founder of the West Jersey Tea Party is speaking out amidst a criminal investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of tea party groups nationwide.
Numerous congressional committees are investigating the IRS for singling out tea party and other conservative groups during the 2010 congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday announced that the FBI is coordinating with the Department of Justice to see if any laws were broken.
Bill Haney, the founder of the West Jersey tea party, based in Medford, New Jersey, told NBC10.com that his organization received a letter from the IRS in September of 2011. Haney says the IRS asked for specific information about the group, including the names of every member, how much money they donated, and both hard and electronic copies of communication with elected representatives on the state or federal level.
Haney referred to the scrutiny as a violation of his group’s right to privacy. He also believes the targeting was politically motivated.
“We said we were a tea party group and we said we were conservatives,” he said. “That’s what I think was the tipoff. Could you imagine if the same kind of questions were asked of Planned Parenthood or another left leaning organization under George Bush? There would have been holy Hell to pay.”
The IRS apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was “inappropriate” targeting of conservative political groups. The IRS admission was made at an American Bar Association conference.
The agency started targeting groups with “Tea Party,” “Patriots” or “9/12 Project” in their applications in March 2010. The criteria later evolved to include groups that promoted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The practice ended in May 2012, according to a draft of an upcoming report by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.
In some cases, the IRS acknowledged, agents inappropriately asked for lists of donors. The agency blamed low-level employees in a Cincinnati office, saying no high-level officials were aware.
Haney says he doesn’t blame the IRS as an organization but rather the political appointees within the group.
“I think that people who work for the IRS by and large are just like you and me,” he said. “They’re honest, God-fearing good people who are doing their job. I think the political appointees who have a limited shelf life need to be found out and they need to lose their jobs.”
Two Republican governors urged President Obama to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the case. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker call the allegations "Big Brother come to life.'' They want a special prosecutor to find out if any laws were broken and say Obama should fire any IRS employees responsible for the situation.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., called Tuesday for the IRS acting chief, Steven Miller, to step down or for Obama to replace him.
Obama stated that if the agency intentionally targeted tea party groups, that it was "outrageous and there’s no place for it.”
As for the West Jersey Tea Party’s future plans, Haney says the group plans on talking to other tea party chapters on a national level.
“If there’s a class action lawsuit, we’ll join them,” he said. “But it’s so disheartening to think that these kind of tactics are used against ordinary people who don’t agree with your point of view.”