- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 13, 2016

Nearly seven years after it applied to the IRS for nonprofit status, the Albuquerque Tea Party has finally been given a decision: Denied.

The tax agency, under orders from a federal judge, is belatedly tackling the remaining tea party cases that it delayed for years, and so far the tea party isn’t doing well. Only one of the three groups in the case was approved, and the other two, including Albuquerque, got notices of proposed denials last week.

The applicants will have a chance to appeal, but the denials aren’t sitting well with the groups, whose attorney said it’s more evidence that the IRS continues to single out the tea party for abuse.

“It is clear that we still have an IRS that is corrupt and incapable of self-correction,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, which represented a number of tea party groups in a case against the tax agency.

The one group that was approved was Unite in Action, a Michigan-based organization that first applied for tax-exempt status more than six years ago. The Albuquerque Tea Party and Tri Cities Tea Party from Washington state were notified of proposed denials.

Still to come is a decision on Texas Patriots Tea Party, a group that is part of a separate class-action lawsuit out of Ohio. A judge in that case ruled late last month that the IRS was likely violating the group’s First Amendment rights by delaying its application and ordered the tax agency to process and decide on the application.

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The IRS, which declined to comment on the new decisions, admitted in court that it did subject the tea party groups to intrusive scrutiny, singling them out because of their political viewpoints and forcing them to go through hurdles that other groups didn’t face.

IRS officials over the summer promised both the courts and Congress that the agency would begin to process all outstanding applications after years of delay that it blamed on a “litigation hold” policy.

Under that policy, the IRS said once a group sued, the agency stopped work on its application. Federal courts held that policy was both ill-advised and not a hard-and-fast rule and ordered the agency to get back to work.

In a notice filed last week, the IRS said it has now met its first deadline.

“As of November 8, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service has issued determinations with respect to each of the Plaintiffs whose applications for tax exempt status had been pending,” the agency said.

Mr. Sekulow said the groups never should have faced the delays, adding that they showed “continuing problems inside the IRS.”

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In a court filing this weekend Mr. Sekulow asked a federal judge in the District of Columbia to officially declare that the IRS violated groups’ First Amendment rights.

The groups also said they are worried that the IRS decision-making in applications that were denied might have been skewed by the entire history of the targeting.

The Albuquerque Tea Party first applied on Dec. 29, 2009. Four months later, it got a two-page, 10-question reply from the IRS, beginning years of back and forth. It has faced a series of follow-up questions, the yearslong delay in court and an offer to be approved — if the group would agree to limit its political advocacy to 40 percent of its activities.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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