The story of Catherine Engelbrecht of Richmond, Texas, should put to rest any suggestion that the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups was simply the work of overzealous or confused low-level staffers in Cincinnati. It’s a story that should give the willies to any American, regardless of political bent.
Engelbrecht and her husband own a small manufacturing business. Through the years, Engelbrecht developed an interest in public policy. She acted on it by forming two groups, called True the Vote and King Street Patriots. The former seeks to ensure the integrity of elections by, among other things, working to clear voting rolls of people who have died.
In July 2010, Engelbrecht sought tax-exempt status from the IRS — and her world started to get turned upside down because, as Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan put it, “The U.S. government came down on her with full force.”
In December of that year, the FBI came to her home to ask about a person who had attended a King Street Patriots function. The following month, in January 2011, the FBI asked more questions and the IRS audited her business tax returns. The FBI came knocking again in May 2011, about King Street Patriots.
One month later, Engelbrecht’s personal tax returns were audited and the FBI visited again. Questions about True the Vote came in October 2011, with another FBI inquiry a month later - and again one month after that. In February 2012, the IRS came with another round of questions about True the Vote, and questions about King Street Patriots.
Engelbrecht’s business has a license to make firearms, but doesn’t. In February 2012, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms did an unscheduled audit of the business. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration did the same in July 2012. Additional IRS questions about True the Vote followed in November 2012, and again in March of this year. In April, ATF conducted a second audit.
Engelbrecht says she and the feds had never crossed paths before her filing for tax-exempt status. “These people, they are just regular Americans,” her attorney, former Oklahoman Cleta Mitchell, told Noonan. “They try to get dead people off voter rolls; you would think that they are serial killers.”
Engelbrecht is fighting back with a lawsuit against the IRS. Brava! Meantime, she still hasn’t received the exemptions she sought three years ago.
And other disconcerting cases continue to bubble to the surface. The Journal wrote this week about a Virginia-based organization that trains young conservative activists. Last year it had to produce 23,000 pages of documents for the IRS and answer personal questions about its interns. In 2010, the tax attorney for a pro-Israel group in Pennsylvania inquired as to why a request for 501(c)(3) status was moving so slowly. The IRS auditor explained that many applications related to Israel “had to be sent to ‘a special unit in D.C. to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the administration’s public policies,’” the Journal reported. Chew on that for a minute.
The head of the IRS’s division that deals with tax-exempt organizations told Congress last week that she had done nothing wrong and broken no laws. Then she hunkered down behind the Fifth Amendment, which is her right. But that move, like the stories of Catherine Engelbrecht and others, spoke volumes about life inside the IRS. Troubling? You bet.
From the Colorado Springs Gazette