Catherine Engelbrecht of Houston, Texas, founded election integrity movement True the Vote. She testified Thursday in the House Oversight and Government Reform Commitee’s hearing into the IRS abuse of conservative and Tea Party groups. The IRS denied True the Vote its tax-exempt status for about three years, only offering that status belatedly, after the 2012 election, and in exchange for Engelbrecht dropping her lawsuit against the agengy.
“My life before I got involved and spoke out for good government stands in stark contrast to the life I now lead,” Engelbrecht said. Engelbrecht described her life as a wife, mother, business owner, PTA leader, and church leader. She and her family paid their taxes, Engelbrecht said, and “the government left me and my family in peace.”
That changed dramatically after she founded True the Vote, which promotes election security and fights election fraud. She and her family kept paying their taxes. But the government no longer left them in peace.
“Shortly after filing IRS forms to establish 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) tax-exempt organizations, an assortment of federal agencies including law enforcement agencies, and Congressman Cummings came knocking at my door. In nearly two decades of running our small business my husband and I never dealt with any government agency outside of filing our annual tax returns. We’d never been audited. We’d never been investigated.
“But all that changed upon submitting applications for the non-profit statuses of True the Vote and King Street. Since that filing in 2010, my private businesses and my non-profit organizations, my family and I have been subjected to more than 15 instances of audit or inquiry by federal agencies.
“In 2011, my personal and business tax returns were audited by the Internal Revenue Service, each audit going back for a number of years. In 2012, my business was subjected to inspection by OSHA on a select occasion when neither my husband nor I were present. Though the agency wrote that it found nothing serious or significant it still issued fines in excess of $20,000.”
Engelbrecht testified that in 2012 and again in 2013, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms conducted comprehensive audits at her family business. Beginning in 2010, the FBI contacted her on six separate occasions, asking to go through the membership lists of her organizations to look for possible links to terrorism cases.
“All of the incursions into my affairs began after filing applications for tax-exemption. There is no other remarkable event. There is no other reason, to explain how for decades I went unnoticed but now find myself on the receiving end of interagency coordination into and against all facets of my life both personal and private.” Engelbrecht told the committee that all of the inquiries were occurring at the same time the IRS sought “every Facebook and Twitter I’d ever posted, questions about my political aspirations, and demands to know the names of groups that I’d spoken with, the content of what I had said and everywhere that I intended to speak in the coming year.”
Engelbrecht noted that while the answers to these inquiries were of no interest to the average IRS agent, they “are certainly of interest to a political machine that will put its own survival against the civil liberties of a private citizen.”
Watch Engelbrecht’s entire opening statement here, keeping in mind that President Obama told Bill O’Reilly that there is “not a smidgen of corruption” in the IRS abuse scandal.
Despite the abuse, Engelbrecht refuses to cast herself as a victim. “Because a victim has no options. I do have options. And I intend to use them to the fullest extent of my capabilities.
“I will continues to speak out,” she said, because “no American citizen should be willing to accept a government that uses its power against its own people.”
Update: Engelbrecht has filed a formal ethics complaint against Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). She is accusing him of using his office to attempt to intimidate her.