By RICK HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MT. VERNON — A local Tea Party organizer says he or anyone affiliated with the local organization has not been targeted by the Internal Revenue Service.
The Justice Department is investigating the IRS for targeting tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt status, according to reports.
Numerous Congressional committees already are investigating the IRS for singling out tea party and other conservative groups during the 2010 Congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election. The federal investigation takes the matter to another level, if investigators are able to prove that laws were broken.
Larry Pearson, who organized several tea parties in Jefferson County in 2010, said he or other representatives of the Jefferson County group have not been targeted yet by the IRS.
"We were an unofficial group and never applied for 501c3 status," Pearson said, adding that a group from Marion County did apply for 501c3 status.
"I don't think they have any way of knowing about us," Pearson added. "If anyone would be targeted, it would be me, but I have not been asked to provide any additional tax information other than what is customary."
He added, "I don't know of anyone in Jefferson County that has been contacted by the government because of their Tea Party activities."
According to an Associated Press story, the IRS 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 Department's inspector general for tax administration.
The same can not be said for Sandy Dragoo of Springfield, who organized Sangamon County's Tea Party in February 2009. Dragoo said she was audited by the IRS in 2011.
"I didn't think about it at the time, but it was suspect," Dragoo said in a telephone interview. "I think tea partiers have always wondered if we were targeted, but we had no proof."
She added, "We registered through the state of Illinois as a group to have meetings. We declined to make a report, but we thought we were doing the right thing. The documents that we had to send in after answering questions we thought was way too intrusive. Why they would need to ask all those questions, I don't know. The tea party is rejecting apologies from the IRS. It goes way beyond targeting the tea party."
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. But in letters provided by the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents 27 tea party groups that have sought tax exempt status, IRS officials from two cities in California as well as officials in Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati contacted groups seeking extensive information.
Attorney General Eric Holder has said the FBI will investigate to see if any laws were broken.
"These actions were, I think, as everyone can agree, if not criminal, they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable," Holder said in a news conference. "We are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations."