Conservative group True the Vote sues IRS over being subject to heightened scrutiny

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 19: The Internal Revenue Service, on May, 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
(Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

True the Vote, a Houston-based voter watchdog group that arose from a tea party organization, filed suit in federal court Tuesday against the Internal Revenue Service over the agency's processing of its request for tax-exempt status.

The lawsuit, filed by the conservative ActRight Legal Foundation, asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to grant its request for tax-exempt status and award damages for what it described as unlawful conduct by the IRS. True the Vote, which was founded in June 2010, is affiliated with the King Street Patriots, a tea party group which started in December 2009.

Originally called KSP/True the Vote, the group filed in July 2010 for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) charity organization. In August 2011, the group changed its name to True the Vote Inc.; King Street Patriots has separately been seeking the 501(c)(4) status from the IRS. True the Vote has come under fire for intimidating African-American and other minority voters at the polls.

"Due to True the Vote’s perceived conservative policy positions and affiliation with Tea Party organizations, the IRS and IRS Employees systematically targeted True the Vote’s application for additional review and scrutiny, whereby True the Vote was deliberately subjected to numerous unnecessary and burdensome requests for information about its operations and affiliations," the lawsuit reads. "Consequently, True the Vote was forced to furnish to the IRS information and documents wholly unnecessary to the determination of True the Vote’s tax-exempt status, which were repeatedly accessed and inspected by IRS agents."

The suit — which names numerous defendants including former acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller, former commissioner Douglas Shulman, and Lois G. Lerner, head of the agecy's tax-exempt organizations division — seeks immediate recognition of True the Vote as a 501(c)(3) and damages of more than $85,000.

"True the Vote is dedicated solely to promoting election integrity in our Republic," said President Catherine Engelbrecht in a statement. "Our mission is to educate Americans on all of the rights they enjoy as voters. We do not pick winners and losers, but instead fortify the voting process so that it is fair and free. If this goal is deserving of such scrutiny, then we have serious questions that we, as a nation, must face."

An IRS spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying, "We don't comment on pending litigation."

Conservatives aren't the only ones suing the IRS Tuesday: The reform group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) also filed a lawsuit in the same court to try to force the agency to issue guidance clarifying what sort of organizations qualify for status as 501(c)(4) groups.

“As the ongoing IRS scandal shows, the 501(c)(4) regulation is unmanageable," said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan, whose group had petitioned the embattled agency in 2011 to put out guidance to clarify the legal uncertainty surrounding the issue. "It clearly conflicts with the tax code and IRS employees are simply at a loss as to how to apply it."

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