The Internal Revenue Service asked tea party groups to see donor rolls.
It asked for printouts of Facebook posts.
And it asked what books people were reading.
A POLITICO review of documents from 11 tea party and conservative groups that the IRS scrutinized in 2012 shows the agency wanted to know everything — in some cases, it even seemed curious what members were thinking. The review included interviews with groups or their representatives from Hawaii, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas and elsewhere.
Several of the groups were asked for resumés of top officers and descriptions of interviews with the media. One group was asked to provide “minutes of all board meetings since your creation.”
Some of the letters asked for copies of the groups’ web pages, blog posts, and social media postings – making some tea party members worry they’d be punished for their tweets or Facebook comments by their followers.
And each letter had a stern warning about “penalties of perjury” – which became intimidating for groups that were being asked about future activities, like future donations or endorsements.
In one instance, the American Patriots Against Government Excess was asked to provide summaries or copies of all material passed out at meetings. The group had been reading the “The 5000 Year Leap” by Cleon Skousen and the U.S. Constitution.
And then they asked whether one group knew Justin Binik-Thomas.
Never heard of him? He’s a former leader of the Cincinnati Tea Party, and clearly someone in the Cincinnati IRS office knew who he was.
So when the Liberty Township Tea Party applied for tax-exempt status, the IRS threw this question into its March 2011 letter to the group: “Provide details regarding your relationship with Justin Bink-Thomas.”
“The thing that would characterize the attitude of the IRS was silence. We submitted our application and it would be almost a year before we would an answer back,” said Laurence Nordvig, the executive director of the Richmond Tea Party. “It’s not like we were talking to someone every day and they were being polite or rude. We weren’t hearing from them at all.”
The Richmond group first applied for 501(c)(4) status in December 2009, and got final approval in July 2012.
Toby Marie Walker, the president of the Waco Tea Party, says her group applied for 501(c)(4) status in July 2010 and didn’t get a response from the IRS until February 2012 – when it sent a letter with 20 questions, including requests for printouts of its web page and social networking sites.
It also wanted copies of all newsletters, bulletins and fliers, as well as any stories written about the group.
The IRS also asked for transcripts of radio shows where her group had mentioned political candidates by name – a job she figured would have cost her group $25,000. And it asked whether her group had “a close relationship” with any candidates or parties, a question she considered especially vague.
Tea party groups felt that the requests for donors was particularly intrusive.