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Tea Party groups sue IRS, Obama administration

Twenty-five conservative and Tea Party groups have filed suit against the Internal Revenue Service, Attorney General Eric Holder and top IRS officials, alleging that the Obama administration unlawfully targeted the groups because of their political beliefs and obstructed their applications for tax-exempt status.

“The IRS and the federal government are not going to get away with this unlawful targeting of conservative groups,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative public interest law firm that filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the groups in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. "The lawsuit sends a very powerful message to the IRA and the Obama Administration – including the White House: Americans are not going to be bullied and intimidated by our government.”

The suit asks for a declaratory judgment that the defendants, including Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, “unlawfully delayed and obstructed” applications for tax-exempt status. It also asks for monetary damages, protection for the plaintiffs from further IRS targeting and tax-exempt status for 10 of the conservative groups with applications still outstanding.

The lawsuit lists 25 plaintiffs, but the ACLJ said more were likely to be added to the suit. Thirteen of the plaintiffs have now received tax-exempt status, and two have withdrawn their applications. The plaintiffs applied for tax-exempt status between 2009 and 2011.

A report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released May 14 said that the IRS had targeted tax-exempt application based on “inappropriate criteria,” including organizational names, and “significantly delayed the processing of these applications.” Processing for some of the Tea Party groups took more than twice as long as for other groups, according to the Inspector General’s report.

The White House has said it was unaware of the targeting, and that President Barack Obama only learned of the issue when news of the IG’s report broke. Lois Lerner, the now-suspended director of the Exempt Organizations department at the IRS, apologized and said she had learned of the targeting in 2012 when Tea Party groups complained. Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who has since resigned, told Congress that the targeting was the result of “foolish mistakes” by lower-level IRS employees, and denied that politics or partisanship motivated the people involved.  According to the IRS’s public statements and testimony, most of the work in question was done by employees at the IRS Exempt Organizations Determinations Unit in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

As NBC News reported Tuesday, however, requests for information about the groups came from other local offices and IRS headquarters in Washington. The ACLJ’s Sekulow previously had provided some of the letters to NBC News, and on Wednesday made them available to the public. At least one letter requesting information about the Ohio Liberty Council bears the stamped signature of Lerner.

Lerner is named as a defendant in the ACLJ suit. The Ohio Liberty Council is not currently among the plaintiffs.

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