DOJ Settlement: IRS to Pay $3.5 Million to Tea Party Groups for ‘Abuse of Power’
On Thursday morning, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) settled two cases in the IRS targeting scandal. In the class-action lawsuit involving 428 conservative plaintiffs, the IRS agreed to pay $3.5 million, Citizens for Self-Governance President Mark Meckler told PJ Media. He insisted that justice had not been done, however.
"There's no apology for violating these plaintiffs' First Amendment rights, for dragging these plaintiffs through years of litigation, for the millions of dollars that had to be spent to get to this point," Meckler insisted. Furthermore, "There's no release of the information on what happened. We still have no idea what actually happened."
In 2010, various conservative and Tea Party groups realized they had been waiting longer than usual to be verified for tax-exempt status by the IRS. The scandal broke wide open in May 2013, but the Obama administration denied any ideological discrimination, saying instead that the delays were due to "mismanagement, poor judgment, and institutional inertia."
Meckler told PJ Media that his local Tea Party group, NorCal Tea Party, was targeted. The IRS was asking the group "all of these unbelievable, outrageous, extensive, unconstitutional questions" before granting tax-exempt status, he said.
The Citizens for Self-Governance president added that although he and his organization were not plaintiffs in the case, he was "frustrated" by the fact no one was filing a lawsuit against the IRS. So his organization funded the litigation in the case, NorCal Tea Party Patriots v. Internal Revenue Service. He told PJ Media the litigation cost Citizens for Self-Governance about $4 million. Since his organization is not a plaintiff, it will not gain a dime of the settlement money.
But what really irked Meckler wasn't the financial cost so much as the lack of an apology from the IRS. Fox News reported that the IRS did give an apology in court documents.
"The IRS admits that its treatment of Plaintiffs during the tax-exempt determination process, including screening their applications based on their names or policy positions, subjecting those applications to heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays, and demanding some Plaintiffs' information that TIGTA determined was unnecessary to the agency's determination of their tax-exempt status, was wrong," the agency said in court documents. "For such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology."
Meckler argued that this apology did not count, for a few reasons. First, it took place in the context of the other case, Linchpins of Liberty v. United States, which represented 41 plaintiffs — not 428. Secondly, he explained that that "apology" was really a "consent decree," which reads "as an apology not from the IRS but for the IRS." Thirdly, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has not issued a public apology.
"If the people at the IRS were genuinely sorry, you would expect them to release their archives in the interest of full transparency," the Citizens for Self-Governance president said.
Meckler did point to one victory in the settlements, however. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in his statement about the settlements, set the record straight about IRS targeting.
Sessions declared that "it is now clear that during the last Administration, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to screen applications for 501(c) status. ... It is also clear these criteria disproportionately impacted conservative groups."
Sessions concluded his statement with these powerful words: "There is no excuse for this conduct. Hundreds of organizations were affected by these actions, and they deserve an apology from the IRS. We hope that today's settlement makes clear that this abuse of power will not be tolerated."
"I do think that's extraordinary," Meckler said. "The DOJ serving as the lawyer for the IRS seems to be chastising the IRS."
Even so, the case itself is a tragedy. "It shows the level of culpability that they are ready to settle a lawsuit for millions of dollars — that doesn't usually happen," he explained.
Although President Barack Obama left office in January of this year, his appointee still runs the IRS. PJ Media asked the Citizens for Self-Governance president if he thinks the "deep state" is to blame for continuing the Obama policy of stonewalling, even under President Donald Trump.
"I do think the deep state's in control," Meckler said. "We know the targeting continued well into Koskinen's tenure." He further noted that Koskinen allegedly perjured himself before Congress, and oversaw the destruction of "massive amounts of evidence" — 422 backup tapes containing as many as 24,000 emails from former IRS Commissioner Lois Lerner. (Lerner also had a legacy of targeting conservatives at the FEC, before she went to the IRS.)
On Thursday, President Trump announced that David Kautter, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for tax policy, will serve as acting commissioner of the IRS when Koskinen's term expires on November 12.
"I don't think we've seen the end of the deep state IRS," Meckler told PJ Media.
"Nothing in the entire history of Washington, D.C., tells me that Obama, Lerner, or Koskinen will be held to account for what they did," he added. "People on the Left who do bad things to conservatives find better jobs in government," he said, referencing Lerner's FEC tenure and her elevation to leadership at the IRS.
Meckler suggested that there is only one surefire way to prevent "deep state" scandals like the IRS targeting — the Convention of States Project.
"Until we take the power away from the federal government, the deep state will continue to exist," he said. "The federal government will continue to act on its own behalf, against citizens. This is a structural problem. Whoever is in office, they can make it slightly better or slightly worse, but they can't fix it."
"The remedy that we were given by the founders is Article V," he said. Article V of the U.S. Constitution presents the process for amending the document, and one of the ways to do so begins with a convention of the states. This is notably different from the Constitutional Convention, which produced the U.S. Constitution.
In order for the convention to meet, two-thirds of the states (34 states) would have to call the convention. At the convention, each state would have one vote. The state legislatures would call the convention and elect representatives to attend it. If 26 states agree to any one amendment, that amendment would be sent to the states, and three-fourths of the states (38 states) would have to ratify an amendment for it to become law.
The Convention of States Project advocates an Article V convention, and former Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) have endorsed the project. Meckler noted that more than 200 leftist groups have signed a petition opposing the project.
While Sessions' statement setting the record straight on IRS targeting was a victory for the First Amendment, the long court battle, Koskinen's silence, and the continued impact of the deep state show there is still much work to be done. The stain of Obama's presidency is not easily expunged.
At bare minimum, however, Meckler insisted that Sessions was right: The 428 conservative groups still "deserve an apology from the IRS." Sadly, they seem unlikely to get one.