The Internal Revenue Service’s admission that it deliberately targeted the non-profit applications of Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny was no surprise to Diane Belsom, whose small South Carolina organization has waited nearly three years for approval of its federal 501(c)4 status. The homeschooling mom says the unexplained delays and intrusive requests for additional information — apparently aimed at discouraging activists opposed to the Obama administration’s policies by wasting their time and money — were a common experience for those dealing with the IRS.
“The pattern was pervasive enough that I was on a conference call [in 2012] with Tea Party Patriots and the topic was Tea Party groups were being targeted,” said Belsom, founder of the Laurens County Tea Party, which filed its application for tax-exempt status in July 2010, an application that still has not been approved by the IRS. “Now it’s 2013 and there’s still no answer. … I think that’s unacceptable, that they can’t tell you one way or another after all this time.”
Recounting an experience similar to that of many other Tea Party activists whose applications were singled out for scrutiny by the IRS between 2010 and 2012, Belsom said she called the agency in 2011, “about a year” after she filed the original application, and was told that “the case was still pending.”
When Belsom asked the IRS official what this meant in terms of the group’s current status, “He said, ‘Oh, no, you still have to file a tax return.’”
Belsom, whose South Carolina group held its first Tea Party rally in April 2009, said she heard nothing more from the IRS until September 2012, when the agency sent her a letter requesting extensive information about the group’s activities, including its Web site, Facebook page and other online accounts. The letter even asked Belsom to send information that had been included in the group’s original application two years earlier.
“The crazy thing is, we’re a really small group,” Belsom told ViralRead in a telephone interview Monday, estimating average attendance at the Laurens County Tea Party’s monthly meetings at between 40 and 50 people.
“We don’t have a lot of money,” she said, describing what she called “insane” hassles from the IRS. “It’s just harassment. It’s not like they’re going to get a lot of money out of us.”
Belsom supported John McCain’s Republican presidential campaign in 2008 and said she became involved in the Tea Party movement because she believes in America. “If we’re going down, go down fighting,” she said. “After Obama was elected, I was devastated. And they were calling for Tea Party rallies, and I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing but I’ll figure it out and I’ll do one,’ so I did.”
Being a Tea Party leader is like “a full-time unpaid job,” Belsom said, and compared the systematic IRS harassment of Obama’s political opponents to similar actions in President Nixon’s administration that were part of the Watergate scandal.
“I think people need to be held accountable,” said Belsom, who has contacted her congressman, Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan, to complain about her group’s problems with the IRS.
“We’re supposed to be living in a republic, not some kind of totalitarian system,” she said. “People need to be sent to jail if they’ve broken laws or, at a minimum, fired.”