CINCINNATI — Tea party activists are heartened by a federal appeals court ruling that strengthens their legal push against the IRS for alleged targeting in past election cycles.
A three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals chastised government foot-dragging while ordering the agency to give attorneys for tea party groups details on tax-exempt applicants. A U.S. district judge in Cincinnati this year certified the case as a class action.
Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin praised the original plaintiffs for "relentless pursuit of the truth."
The 2013 lawsuit was among litigation, congressional hearings and federal investigations over treatment of conservative groups who said they were singled out for extra IRS scrutiny. The Justice Department decided against any criminal charges after its probe.
"It's about time," Tim Savaglio of the Liberty Township Tea Party said of the federal order to release IRS records.
The IRS inspector general said in a 2013 report that applications with such words as "tea party" and "patriots" were set aside, among hundreds of applications including some from liberal groups that languished. Groups on agency "Be On the Lookout" lists received what the 6th Circuit ruling called "crushing demands" for additional information such as lists of donors, the content of speeches and presentations, details of activities and copies of newsletters, emails and advertising materials.
Savaglio said his group went more than a year without response to its application, then received a letter seeking more information about its activities. He said that after providing information, the tea party group got another letter asking for clarification. IRS employees, he said, took exception to such things as postings on the group's Facebook page, including reposts by people not in their group.
"We considered ourselves an education group," Savaglio said. He said his group hasn't responded to an IRS request to re-apply for special tax status.
Martin praised the NorCal Tea Party Patriots, the California-based group since joined by other groups in the Cincinnati lawsuit. The group alleged violation of privacy laws and its constitutional rights.
"The entire movement owes the NorCal Tea Party their thanks for keeping the pressure on the IRS and never giving up the fight," she said in a statement.
Much of the agency's top leadership was replaced, and the government says changed have been made in how tax-exempt applications are handled.
The Justice Department didn't respond immediately to a request last week for comment on the 6th Circuit ruling.
Judge Raymond Kethledge of 6th Circuit wrote that the IRS' response to the lawsuit "has only compounded the conduct that gave rise to it," and said the court expects it "will do better going forward" and comply immediately with court-ordered discovery.
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