At least 2 SC Tea Party groups say they were singled out by IRS

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181653_4971715086218_1777541894_nThe news that Internal Revenue Service employees singled out conservative Tea Party groups for intense— and sometimes inappropriate— scrutiny has gotten lots of national attention.


Various Tea Party groups gather in a 2011 rally

Various Tea Party groups gather in a 2011 rally


But it hardly surprised leaders of two such organizations in South Carolina who say they were among those receiving the extra scrutiny.


Both Laurens County Tea Party chair Diane Belsom and Myrtle Beach Tea Party chairman Joe Dugan say their groups still have not been approved or rejected for special nonprofit status, even though they submitted their filing paperwork in 2010. Both say the IRS followed up with intrusive questions, including lists of members, donors, volunteers, and positions on political issues.


The problems stemmed from the organizations filing for special 501(c) 4 status as “social welfare” groups. That designates them as nonprofits which are granted special tax privileges. In exchange, the groups are not allowed to do significant amounts of electioneering on behalf of political candidates. But IRS officials at some point began to question whether some of those C4 groups were improperly getting involved in campaigns.


However, a highly-anticipated IRS inspector general’s report concluded that the agency used “inappropriate criteria” to screen the groups. Starting in early 2010, staffers screened applicants with “political-sounding” names like “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” and “9/12,” the audit found. It concluded that poor management had allowed employees to go too far in their questioning. President Barack Obama said in a statement Tuesday evening that the report’s findings were “intolerable and inexcusable.”


Belsom said the Laurens County Tea Party filed for the status in June 2010. But they never heard back from the IRS about any sort of approval until September 2012, when the agency sent a form requesting lists of members, the amount of time they spent volunteering with the group, donors, and positions on political issues. She said she eventually submitted the information by year’s end.


In January, the IRS wanted more, including who was commenting on the group’s Facebook page. “I didn’t think that people who posted in a closed Facebook group… really wanted the IRS scrutinizing them,” Belsom told South Carolina Radio Network.


Dugan said his group was asked for similar documents in 2012, as well as which speakers they had hosted in meetings and any fliers they had posted about those events. “I don’t know how anyone can have the kind of documentation they asked for,” he said. The organization eventually submitted over 400 pages of documentation, he added.


The intense questions of the audit scared away many of the Myrtle Beach members, Dugan said. “You get a sudden drop in members and funding totally dries up.”


The inspector general’s report maintains that only low-level employees singled out the conservative organizations for efficiency reasons. But Dugan insists that the purpose was more sinister. “I believe this was done on purpose, because the Tea Party groups were so successful during the 2010 elections at getting our message out there.”


Belsom was not willing to go that far, but did say she found the timing of the extra scrutiny (months before the 2012 election) suspicious. “We really have no money. People just give a donation and we have membership dues,” she said, “So, for the amount of time and money the IRS themselves expended looking into our group, it’s not like they’d be getting anything.”


In a statement late Tuesday, the IRS contended that it didn’t act out of any political bias, saying the cases singled out for review since 2010 “included organizations of all political views.”


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