Based on the group’s partisan record, in 2010, the Texas Democratic Party filed a suit charging that the King Street Patriots (which had yet to spin True the Vote off into a separate organization) was not a legitimate non-profit, but an unregistered political action committee that had illegally aided the Republican Party with its poll-watching activities. A district court later rule in the party’s favor. (True the Vote, which is represented by Citizen’s United mastermind James Bopp, has appealed the decision).
True the Vote’s activities outside Texas have been equally controversial. Recently, several news organizations have devoted entire stories to the fact that the IRS has raised questions about True the Vote and local Tea Party groups’ work on the recall election for Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker—among other things, they rallied some 17,000 volunteers to scour the recall petition for problematic signatures and recruited hundreds of activists to work as poll watchers. Regional papers have done a good job of setting this information in context. Wisconsin’s Chippewa Herald, for example, quoted election law attorney Mike Wittenwyler saying “it’s well within the IRS’ purview” to ask these kinds of questions. But the only real context The Associated Press provided was the following:
The IRS is accused of improperly targeting conservative groups who were applying for tax-exempt status. The ousted chief of the IRS told Congress Friday that his agency made errors in targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, but he says the mistakes were not the result of partisan views.
This makes it sound as if the IRS’s queries about True the Vote and its partners’ work in Wisconsin are another example of agency overreach, when in fact the IRS may have had good reason for asking such questions. True the Vote’s activities in Wisconsin had a distinctly partisan flavor, and it worked closely with Wisconsin Republican officials, particularly on the poll-watcher trainings it hosted around the state. As I reported in The Atlantic last fall , the Racine training was conducted partly by a local Republican official named Lou D’Abbraccio, who told attendees point blank that the plan was to target “heavily skewed Democratic ward[s].” Voting-rights advocates later alleged that conservative poll observers—many of them recruited and trained by True the Vote—hovered over voters in poor black and Hispanic precincts. There were also reports of observers following voters out to the parking lot and photographing their license plates or sending voters to the wrong polling paces.
At the least, such activities deserve a hard look from the IRS, a nuance that the press ought to keep in mind as this story unfolds.