WASHINGTON – House committees continued their probe this week into the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeting scandal in which conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status were subjected to extra scrutiny.
Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who represents the Texas-based group True the Vote, told a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee Thursday that the IRS targeting is very “real” and “not pretend.”
“The IRS, at the direction of some political elites in Washington – not in Cincinnati, but Washington – took what had been for decades a process of reviewing applications for exempt status that for a 501(c)(4) organization could be expected to take three to four weeks,” Mitchell said. “And they converted that process into one that took three to four years and, in some cases, is still not over.”
True the Vote filed its application for tax-exempt status in 2010 and did not receive it until after the group sued the IRS.
Mitchell said the first time she became aware of the targeting was in October 2009 when she filed an application for another group, and did not hear from the IRS until June 2010. She said when the IRS got back to them it was not Cincinnati, but the Washington office.
“That group did one thing. It lobbied against Obamacare in the fall of 2009, in the spring of 2010, something that a 501(c)(4) organization is permitted to spend 100 percent of its program expenditures doing. We did not get the tax-exempt status for that organization until July of 2013,” Mitchell said.
In a Sunday interview with Fox News, President Obama said the IRS targeting controversy was a result of “bone-headed decisions” in the agency’s Cincinnati office and did not involve “a smidgen of corruption.”
Contrary to what Obama said, the scandal “is not just a boneheaded bunch of bureaucrats in some remote office,” Mitchell said.
She also said the IRS is still singling out such conservative organizations. Mitchell represents another tea party group, Tea Party Patriots, which applied in December 2010 and has yet to receive its tax-exempt status.
“The scandal is not over. It is continuing to this day, and the Department of Justice investigation is a sham. It is a non-existent investigation,” Mitchell said.
Catherine Engelbrecht, president of True the Vote and founder of King Street Patriots, complained that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the committee, had sent letters to her organization “demanding materials, demanding information, demanding that [she] and representatives of True the Vote make themselves available in Washington.”
Cummings defended his actions by saying he was just conducting appropriate oversight of the organization, as the ranking member of the committee.
“I don’t want it put out there that I was trying to act on behalf of the committee or anything unusual. We were basically looking into voting situations and whether voters were in any way, in any way being impeded from voting,” Cummings said.
In 2012, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights reported that True the Vote’s poll monitoring efforts in North Carolina focused on counties with high percentages of African Americans and other minorities.
Cummings cited the report as the basis for his scrutiny of the organization.
Engelbrecht said True the Vote only provides training and the organization had no poll watchers in any of these counties.
The focus of the hearing was on an Obama donor, Barbara Bosserman, a career Justice government employee, who is working on the FBI probe of the targeting scandal.
Bosserman was invited to the hearing, but the Justice Department declined to send the official, citing the ongoing investigation.