A federal judge has dismissed two lawsuits filed against the Internal Revenue Service and Lois Lerner by forty conservative organizations that claim they were harassed by the government over applications for tax-exempt status because of their political leanings, but one leader of this legal fight says the battle is really just beginning and it may not even be fought in a courtroom.
On Thursday, federal District Judge Reggie Walton, a George W. Bush appointee, dismissed suits suing the IRS for improper intrusion into the sensitive donor information and private communications within the groups. Walton also rejected efforts to collect damages from the IRS for all the legal and accounting fees piled up by the organizations as they tried to comply with the unlawful scrutiny. In the end, Walton concluded there was “no harm done” since the groups ultimately received their tax-exempt status.
One of the groups leading the charge against the IRS is True the Vote, an organization dedicated to clean elections through updating voter rolls and tougher voter identification laws. True the Vote Communications Director Logan Churchwell says that logic was new to his group.
“It’s a fascinating sign of the times when you see that because the judge can reason and he can justify that the ultimate remedy that the court could have offered under the law itself would have been our tax status, which they gave us only after we decided to sue them. A question we’ll never know is if we hadn’t filed a lawsuit and we just sat there and took it, would we have actually gotten this tax status?” said Churchwell, who says the fate of the tax-exempt application is not the biggest issue in this case.
“Anyone that’s ever dealt with the IRS or any federal agency knows that the process is worse than the actual outcome. It doesn’t matter whether you have a fine or any kind of penalty at the end. It’s dealing with the process. It’s having to lawyer up, get more accountants, collect all of your receipts, whatever is required of that. That can really cause problems,” said Churchwell.
“In our case, we had trouble fundraising. We had trouble organizing and gathering volunteers because every time we felt like we were getting something going when it came to our actual mission statement, we were having to go and find more Washington attorneys to help us defend ourselves against the IRS,” he said.
Churchwell says as aggravating as the process was for True the Vote, it could muster the resources to fight back while others could not.
“True the Vote was fortunate. We had enough support. We had the wherewithal to actually bring the fight to the IRS and force our application to be approved. There are dozens if not hundreds of other little tea party groups or any other group that decided, ‘Hey, we just want to organize. We want to do so legitimately under the tax code. If we can’t afford to fight this battle to use our first amendment rights, we’re going to mail it in. We’re done,’” Churchwell explained.
True the Vote acknowledges Judge Walton’s decision but strongly disagrees with the logic behind it given the questionable revelations that have unfolded since the story first came to light a year-and-a-half ago. At that time, the IRS apologized for the targeting, blamed low-level staffers in Cincinnati for the improper actions and vowed it would never happen again. Churchwell says a lot has happened since then to throw cold water on that narrative.
“To get from there to where we are today with lost emails and learned to what extent people were targeted and how wide of a scheme this really was, all to find out that you had to have an internal report to force the story into the open. Otherwise it probably never would have seen the light of day and anyone that said otherwise would probably be called a crackpot for even thinking the IRS would do such a thing,” said Churchwell.
“Today, we learned just how wide of a scandal this turned out to be and every avenue that’s been taken to try to seek justice ends in this same place. ‘Well, the IRS admitted their wrongdoing. They’ve said they’ve changed their ways. Let’s just move on,’” he said.
For True the Vote, Thursday was not a good day but it’s far from the end of this saga.
“It’s a setback. Based on how we’ve seen the IRS play out, we’ve come to expect the unexpected. But we continue to look at all of our options. This isn’t where the story ends. You might even say this is where the true story actually begins,” he said.
But what exactly is beginning?
“We’re coming to a breaking point in this country, True the Vote believes, where American citizens just aren’t going to put up with it anymore. Our founder, Catherine Englebrecht, put out a statement that said if citizens really want to make a difference on this, then we need to stop relying on the inspector generals of the bureaucratic departments of the executive branch and we need to start doing some of their work for them,” said Churchwell.
“We need to be building a resource where, if you have a problem with a federal bureaucracy or you feel you were being treated unfairly, then citizens need a resource to call upon and have a variety of options available to them. True the Vote’s founding leadership is more than happy to help see that kind of movement grow up out of this news and offer any insight that it can,” he said.