A federal judge in Ohio ordered the IRS to turn over a list of 298 names of groups targeted by the agency for increased scrutiny in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election. The ruling comes as a setback to the IRS, potentially opening the door to a class action lawsuit against the agency by all the targeted groups.
The IRS argued that the agency could not hand over the list due to privacy laws; however, Judge Susan J. Dlott, who sits in the Southern District of Ohio, rejected that claim. She ruled that while the IRS does have the duty to protect the groups’ internal financial information, the public should know of the existence of those organizations on the list.
Judge Dlott also ordered the IRS to confirm whether a list of targeted groups obtained by USA Today and published by the newspaper in September 2013 is accurate.
Advertisement - story continues below
The judge ruled that since those currently involved in the litigation are seeking to certify a class action lawsuit (i.e. confirm the criteria is met to bring the larger suit):
The return information sought is directly related to the issue of class certification in this federal court proceeding. The names of the putative class member organizations and their control dates — the date which the putative class member organizations submitted their applications for tax exempt status to the IRS — are directly related to the issue of class certification.
Mark Meckler, a tea party member and president of Citizens for Self Governance, which is funding the suit, stated that “We are at the precipice” of certifying the class action suit. The plaintiffs in the suit currently consist of 10 groups, among them the NorCal Tea Party Patriots, the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Ohio, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The groups initiated their suit in 2013.
With the entire list, coupled with the scope of a class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs believe they will be able to gain further access into the IRS internal workings, including how the agency chose which groups to target.
As reported in the Daily Signal, they describe themselves as:
“comprised of individual citizens who have joined together to exercise their rights to freedom of speech and expression” and who “dissent from the policies or ideology of the” current administration. They claimed that, on the basis of their beliefs, they had been subjected “to delays and intrusive scrutiny during the tax-exempt status application process.” According to the ten plaintiffs, this violated the Privacy Act, the First and Fifth Amendments, and 26 U.S.C. §6103, a federal statute that protects the confidentiality of tax return information.
The named defendants in addition to the IRS include the Treasury Department, Lois Lerner, and other individual IRS employees.
As reported by Western Journalism, Lerner, head of the IRS’ tax exempt division, admitted wrongdoing on a conference call with reporters in May of 2013. She said that her division had set aside groups with the terms “tea party” or “patriots” in their names for intrusive scrutiny and delayed their approval. She added that the conduct by IRS “front line” personnel was “absolutely inappropriate” and apologized to those groups affected. She has pled the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination twice when brought before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Advertisement - story continues below
Days after Lerner’s admission, the independent Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released the results of its months-long investigation. The IG determined that “The IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention.”
The report determined that the wrongful conduct had gone on for 18 months under Lerner’s leadership and resulted in “substantial delays” in processing applications for the targeted groups–and allowed “unnecessary information requests” to be issued to those groups. The IG investigation uncovered the list of 298 targeted groups.