After IRS Scandal, Tea Party Groups Eye the Courtroom

Several Tea Party groups say they may sue the IRS for targeting them.

May 17, 2013, 6:04 PM

May 20, 2013 — -- What is the next step for the tea party groups who feel they were unfairly scrutinized by the Internal Revenue Service? For many of them, it may be lawsuits, against the IRS.

Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said the group will be bringing a lawsuit on behalf of many of those groups next week.

"It's the logical next step," he said.

"The admission and apology by the IRS that the criteria used [in tea party applications] was not correct and inappropriate" is grounds for a suit, Sekulow said in an interview with ABC News because groups he represents are "still getting letters requesting information," and he believes, "if we don't file suit we won't bring an end to this."

ACLJ represents 27 tea party organizations that feel they were unfairly targeted by the IRS. Ten of the groups ACLJ represents still have pending applications to get tax-exempt status, while 15 did receive tax-exempt status.

ACLJ is preparing a lawsuit against the Department of Treasury and the IRS on behalf of at least 17 of those groups, Sekulow said -- and more groups, possibly even potential new clients beyond the 27 the ACLJ currently represents, could be added.

Sekulow said he plans on filing the suit this week.

"We are going to focus on a lack of standards and the treatment they were given and the wrong criteria utilized, much of what was in the IG report," Sekulow said.

Other government officials might be added to the suit, he said, including IRS agents named in the documents and department heads.

Who's Considering Suing?

"This is an application, this isn't an audit," Zawistowski said, referring to the long and detailed questionnaires his group was asked to fill out. "You were auditing us before we did anything."

The group's application for tax-exempt status was approved in December 2012 after first applying in June 2010.

Carole Waddell, the treasurer of the Waco Tea Party, said "we felt it was intimidation and harassment just because it tied up a lot of our time and kept us from doing other activities that we would have normally been doing in an election year last year.

"It was a hassle, it was expensive, it was time-consuming and it was pretty frightening," Waddell said of the application process.

Not all of the groups planning on turning to litigation will be part of the ACLJ lawsuit.

Catherine Englebrecht, the president of True the Vote, said in an interview that she was told during the IRS application process by an analyst in Cincinnati: "I'm just following directions and the directions are coming from Washington."

Englebrecht said her group's application for tax-exempt status has been pending for three years, but during that time she was personally audited and even visited by agents from the Bureau of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"Initially, we were filing [a lawsuit] because we had not yet received any kind of determination," Englebrecht said. "Now, with the IRS' admission that certain groups were singled out, we want to fully explore every opportunity to make sure that what we suffered through the last three years is duly noted. ... I think it begins to point to a pattern of behavior that is very troubling."

True the Vote added that it was concerned that other Tea Party groups around the country were asked about their relationship with them in questionnaires.

True the Vote came under serious scrutiny during the election for its work monitoring polling places, with critics saying it was trying to suppress Democratic and minority voters.

Cleta Mitchell, an attorney with Foley & Lardner, LLP which is working with many of the groups that claimed unfair scrutiny, including True the Vote, said there are "hoards of lawyers reviewing the case law and statutes as we speak" -- but, "trying to find out the basis for damages" isn't simple and there isn't "always a remedy in the courthouse."

"It's not as simple as it sounds," Mitchell told ABC News.

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