More than two dozen conservative groups sued the IRS, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Wednesday accusing them of slow-walking approval of the groups’ tax-exempt status and, in some cases, for disclosing private information.
The lawsuit comes even as Congress announced it will hold a hearing next week to take testimony from some of the groups targeted by the Internal Revenue Service, giving them a platform to detail the kinds of questions they were asked.
Wednesday’s lawsuit, filed by the American Center for Law and Justice in a federal court in Washington, demands that the IRS be forced to recognize the groups and asks the court to rule that IRS officials violated the groups’ constitutional rights.
“The IRS and the federal government are not going to get away with this unlawful targeting of conservative groups,” said Jay Sekulow, chief lawyer for ACLJ.
Last week, another conservative-run group, True the Vote, also sued, seeking to force the IRS to approve its application.
An auditor’s report released earlier this month found that IRS officials wrongly singled out conservative groups’ applications to special scrutiny and asked inappropriate, probing questions of the groups.
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Some of the groups say their information was also illegally disclosed by the IRS to outside parties, constituting a further violation of their rights.
The audit found that in addition to the wrongful scrutiny, the IRS has delayed approval of the applications and opened itself up to just the kinds of lawsuits that the groups have now filed.
As of December, only 108 of the targeted applications had been approved. Another 28 were withdrawn, leaving 160 cases still open. The IRS has yet to reject officially any applications from the targeted groups.
“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 last week.
IRS officials told Congress that they were wrong to target conservative groups, but have said it was not an effort to stifle political speech, but rather an administrative method of trying to make sure political groups weren’t using the tax code to screen their political activities.
Of the 25 groups that are part of the ACLJ lawsuit, 13 were finally approved after what they termed “lengthy delays,” while two groups withdrew their applications and another 10 are still awaiting a final decision.
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One of the groups that withdrew told The Times earlier this month that it decided it was too much of a hassle to deal with the IRS.
The groups can still operate, but they face tax obligations for their activities.
The Senate already has held one hearing looking into the IRS, and the House has held two hearings.
Two more are scheduled for next week. An Appropriations Committee panel will hear from the new IRS acting commissioner Monday, and the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday to give some of the targeted groups a chance to say what they faced.
“While we now know that the IRS began targeting individuals based on their personal beliefs three years ago, we still need to know who began this targeting and why, and we need to understand how individuals were affected by the IRS’s abuse,” said Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican.