True the Vote — one of the conservative groups the IRS subjected to special scrutiny when it applied for tax-exempt status — sued the federal government on Tuesday, demanding the tax agency approve its application that has now been pending for three years.
Other lawsuits are expected this week on behalf of other conservative groups, opening up a new attack on an IRS already reeling from criticism from Congress.
“After answering hundreds of questions and producing thousands of documents, we’re done waiting. The IRS does not have the power to pocket-veto our application,” said Catherine Engelbrecht, president of True the Vote, a Texas-based group that believes it was singled out because of its mission of combating elections fraud.
Cleta Mitchell, a prominent conservative lawyer who filed the suit for the group, said the goal is both to force the IRS to approve True the Vote’s application and to get to the bottom of what the tax agency has been doing in its admitted scrutinizing of conservative groups’ applications starting in 2010.
The IRS’ inspector general said in a report last week that the agency inappropriately targeted 296 groups that had applied for tax-exempt status, and subjected them to extra scrutiny and long delays in getting their applications through. IRS agents in some cases used keywords such as “tea party” and “patriots” to screen applications.
As of December 2012, only 108 of those applications had been approved. Another 28 were withdrawn, leaving 160 cases still open.
The IRS has yet to reject any applications.
“Of the cases still open, some have been in process for over three years and crossed two election cycles without resolution,” IRS Inspector General J. Russell George testified to the Senate on Tuesday.
On the other side of the issue, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, sued in federal court to try to force the IRS to issue rules restricting how much political activity tax-exempt groups can do.
“Remarkably, the IRS has known the regulation presents enforcement issues for more than 50 years, but has failed to act. CREW has sued to force the IRS to finally deal with this issue,” said group Executive Director Melanie Sloan.
The Washington Times highlighted True the Vote’s situation in an article Tuesday. The IRS did not respond to a request for comment about the processing delay or why the agency probed other tea party groups for information about True the Vote.
One of those other groups, the North East Tarrant Tea Party, is also still awaiting approval of its application for tax-exempt status, and is planning to sue the IRS for a final decision. The Texas-based group will be represented by the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, which plans to file a lawsuit later this week on behalf of more than a dozen groups.
True the Vote filed for 501(c)(3) charitable organization status in 2010. Since then it has received five different inquiries from the IRS, and has submitted hundreds of pages of responses and documents, but still hasn’t gotten approval.
Ms. Mitchell said most 501(c)(3) applications are done within a year.
The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Washington.