Just about everyone in Washington agrees that the IRS’s blanket targeting of Tea Party groups by keying on words in their titles was, at best, misguided. But that doesn’t mean that every Tea Party organization that found itself under the IRS microscope was wrongly targeted—a nuance sometimes lost in the coverage.
Take True the Vote , a project of the Texas-based King Street Patriots, which was founded in 2010 to fight voter fraud. Since earlier this month, when the IRS revealed that agents in the Cincinnati branch office were targeting Tea Party groups, a number of news organizations have reported on the flood of intrusive queries that True the Vote has faced as it slogged through five rounds of IRS questionnaires. Some have also given prominent billing to founder Catherine Engelbrecht’s complaints. “This is what the beginning of tyranny looks like,” Engelbrecht, told Breitbart.com. “If such politically-motivated governmental abuses of power can happen to us, they can happen to anyone.”
Some reporters have cited True the Vote’s ordeal as evidence that the targeting was more widespread than the IRS admits. Last week, The Washington Post published a piece alleging that IRS officials in Washington were “involved with investigating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, making it clear that the effort reached well beyond the branch in Cincinnati that was initially blamed.” All the documents and examples cited in the story came from two groups: True the Vote and the King Street Patriots. Ted Oberg, an investigative correspondent with Houston’s ABC affiliate, KTRK , also reported on the Washington connection and True the Vote’s take on its implications:
True the Vote says there is simply no way this is the work of some isolated, low-level rogue IRS employees in Cincinnati, Ohio, as the IRS initially said. They know that because they’ve gotten questions from Ogden, Utah. And more concerning to Englebrecht, documents reveal IRS employees admitted the application was being reviewed by a task force at the IRS in Washington, DC.
If Oberg gave the IRS a chance to respond, he didn’t say so in the story. Perhaps more importantly, neither he nor the Post questioned True the Vote’s claims that it was targeted because of its Tea Party affiliations, although the group doesn’t exactly fit the profile. As far as we know, the IRS has only improperly targeted would-be “social welfare” groups, or 501(c)4s, which are allowed to engage in some political activity. True the Vote has applied for 501(c)3 nonprofit status, meaning it is barred from engaging in electoral politics, especially of the partisan variety.
Also, there are plenty of reasons beyond its Tea Party ties that the IRS might have put True the Vote under a microscope, the most obvious being its flouting of the ban on political activity. The group focuses on elections. It argues that it’s only interested in ensuring elections are “free and fair,” and that its efforts are nonpartisan, but its partisan leanings are plain. Engelbrecht spits the word “Democrat” like a slur. One of the True the Vote’s early promotional videos made the claim that “Republicans have to win by at least 3 percent in order to win an election” because Democrats cast so many fraudulent votes.
In Texas, True the Vote’s poll watchers have been known to work exclusively with GOP candidates and target heavily black and Hispanic precincts, which tend to lean Democratic. And their in-your-face approach has drawn numerous complaints of voter intimidation. True the Vote’s parent organization, the King Street Patriots (a 501(c)4), has also held Republican-only candidate forums.