May 30, 2013 in Nation/World

Conservative groups file suit against IRS

Complaint alleges political motivations
Jack Brammer McClatchy-Tribune
Associated Press photo

Selim Zherka, center, is flanked by his lawyers David Carlebach, left, and Stuart Melnick as he speaks during a news conference on Wednesday outside a federal court in New York. Zherka, the owner of a weekly Westchester County newspaper and a former New York state tea party leader, filed a lawsuit against the IRS and the FBI with claims he was subjected to a tax investigation because of his political activities.
(Full-size photo)

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Kentucky 9/12 Project, based in Georgetown, Ky., is one of 25 conservative groups across the nation that filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Internal Revenue Service for unfairly delaying their tax-exempt status.

The groups, which are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages to be determined at a trial, are represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington-based law group focused on religious and constitutional freedoms.

The 29-page lawsuit against the IRS, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and several other federal officials, contends that the Obama administration “unlawfully delayed and thereby effectively denied” the groups’ applications for tax-exempt status.

The complaint says the delay was politically motivated and prohibited the groups from receiving various tax-exempt benefits for an extended period of time.

“The IRS and the federal government are not going to get away with this unlawful targeting of conservative groups,” Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, said in a news release.

An IRS official admitted earlier this month that the agency had targeted conservative groups in a presidential election year. The IRS later apologized for inappropriately flagging for increased scrutiny groups like the 9/12 Project, created in 2009 by TV and radio personality Glenn Beck.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, is necessary “because we feel that questions need to be answered and people need to be held accountable,” said Eric Wilson of Georgetown, director of the Kentucky 9/12 Project, in a telephone interview.

Key IRS manager Lois Lerner invoked her right to not testify about the agency’s targeting of conservative groups during congressional hearings last week, igniting protests from Republicans.

In general, the hearings painted a picture of a bungling agency in which top managers in Washington were largely out of touch with how their staff in a Cincinnati field office was handling applications for tax exemptions.

Still, many questions have not been answered, including how the improper screening started, why it continued on and off for two years, and why top IRS officials did not reveal it for more than a year despite pointed questions from Congress and loud complaints from the targeted conservative groups.

The plaintiffs argue in the lawsuit that the federal government violated the U.S. Constitution, federal law and its own rules and regulations.

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