Several Florida activists claim they or their organizations are victims of the IRS' gone-wild, anti-conservative harassment campaign -- citing everything from individual audits to being burdened with probing, invasive questionnaires and being forced to disclose political beliefs, even seeing unpublished web pages unearthed.
The idea, apparently, was to keep them from organizing as tax-exempt entities.
In the days since the Obama administration's IRS has apologized for specifically targeting conservative organizations for special tax-status scrutiny, Sunshine State News has discovered that among the agency's apparent victims are several Florida-based tea party groups and their spokespersons.
What follows are profiles of three prominent Florida tea party activists who have come forward to share their stories with SSN.
Tim Curtis, chairman of the Tampa 9-12 Project, former Democratic candidate for Congress
We are a gang of folks who love our nation, love our country, love its founding, and the result of that is we have banded together and formed an organization, to organize, to educate, and to mobilize, Curtis tells SSN of the Tampa 9-12 Project, a tea party organization inspired by the activism of conservative radio personality Glenn Beck.
In February 2010, Curtis' organization filled out a 17- to 18-page application with the IRS to incorporate as a nonprofit 501(c)(4), and a month later received notice that the application had been received and was being processed.
Five months later, that's where the fun began, Curtis says, as he received a follow-up questionnaire which solicited several personal details that he and his fellow activists found odd, onerous, and downright disturbing. Among the demands:
Provide copies of your research materials produced and disseminated by your organization on social, domestic, economic, defense, and foreign policy issues.
Provide copy [sic] of your educational materials presented at your seminars, public assemblies, meetings, forums, etc.
Please provide pages from your website.
Because we are law-abiding, Constitution-loving, American patriot citizens, we provided the IRS with all of the information they requested, Curtis says, even as he believes the IRS's scrutiny still had a chilling effect on his organization's activities.
I know for certain there were people who were more than just reticent [to be involved with the 9-12 Project.], he recounts. They were telling me, 'Tim, I would love to, but I own a business, and I'm concerned.' 'Tim, I'd love to be involved, I'd love to come out, I'd love to volunteer, but I'm not so sure that nothing's going to happen to me if I do.'
Curtis was notified in January 2011 that his organization's tax-exempt status had been granted, but he insists that approval should not have depended on his having to disclose members' ideological sympathies. He believes that what's at stake in the current national controversy isn't simply the inconvenience of some conservatives, but the very soul of the country.
When we can have the Commissioner of the IRS sit in front of Congress and just bareface lie to them and walk away scot-free, that's not America, he says. That's not what this president said what he was about, and he is the liar-in-chief when it comes to that, he and his number-one buddy, Eric Holder, who are just letting this guy walk.
These folks are also the enforcement arm for the president's healthcare law. If they'll lie about whether or not theyre just watching American citizens, how much further will they'll take it, when they have the kind of power that the president's healthcare act puts into their hands?
KrisAnne Hall, attorney, Constitutional educator, legal adviser to Unite in Action, former Florida prosecutor
Print out every screen shot of every post you've ever made on a Facebook page, give us a list of every single meeting you've held, every speaker that has ever been at any of your meetings, a list of names of every person who's ever attended your meetings, KrisAnne Hall tells SSN, recounting the kinds of questions asked her of her tea party organization. We have a government that's completely out of control.
Hall attorney, activist, public speaker, and radio show host is a familiar figure to many of Florida's tea partiers. A former state prosecutor, she was fired from her job in 2010 by Democratic state attorney Skip Jarvis for lecturing on the Constitution to several tea party organizations. Her lawsuit, alleging violations of her First Amendment rights, was settled for an undisclosed sum in 2011.
Her run-ins with the IRS date back to 2010 when Unite in Action a group that helped orchestrate 2009's Taxpayer March on Washington, and to which Hall serves as legal adviser and former interim president tried to get incorporated as a 501(c)(4). The organization was bombarded with a number of intrusive questions after completing the lengthy application.
Unite in Action has retained legal counsel and is still fighting to be established as a tax-exempt nonprofit.
And they're not the only ones whose IRS troubles are ongoing: After filing her personal 2010 income taxes, Hall herself came down for an audit, being denied a special adoption tax credit she had previously qualified for, and receiving a demand she pay back past years' credit.
I don't do my own taxes, I hire a professional to do it for me, and we should have qualified, she tells SSN. I can't say for sure I'm being targeted [for my activism,] but it sure is a strange coincidence in light of recent revelations.
Those revelations have left Hall disappointed, but not surprised. She says the IRS controversy reflects a broader legal and political culture gone awry.
When we allow the government to expand its power beyond the limitations of the Constitution, the only limit is the will of the government even worse, the will of the individual agent, she warns. That is absolutely an immoral and arbitrary government with absolutely unlimited power. That's why we have a Constitution, to keep us from that.
Jason Hoyt, Central Florida tea party activist
At the time, we didn't think that any individual question was too onerous, but they did seem a little bit odd, Hoyt, a prominent activist associated with several Central Florida tea party organizations and functions, tells SSN of his and others' 2012 application to incorporate one such group. We didn't know that this was going on as a coordinated effort across the country.
Among other things, the IRS wanted to know how Hoyt was selected to serve as the group's executive director, wanted a list of other candidates considered for the position, and demanded the minutes of the meeting at which Hoyt was chosen.
The agency also produced print-outs of two websites: One was a site associated with a radio show Hoyt used to host and which was completely unrelated to the new organization and another was a site that was in development and hadn't even been made public.
Hoyt's group was asked if these websites were affiliated with Hoyt and his tea party group, and, if not, to explain the sites.
That isn't a typo: Hoyt and his colleagues were asked to explain the websites if they had nothing to do with them.
This agency has way too much power, especially when their attitude is you're guilty until you're proven innocent. Hoyt says.
SSN has viewed copies of the IRS letter containing these questions, but Hoyt declines to give permission to publish the letter, or the names of the organization or its would-be board members.
And for apparently good reason: 10 days after the July 27 letter, one of those board members received notice that he was being personally audited by the IRS. That action is still ongoing, and the remaining board members still live in fear of retaliation by the agency.
Hoyt and the board have given up trying to jump-start their organization, citing over-burdensome costs and complexities.
For a federal agency that has over 100,000 agents tasked with enforcing over 70,000 pages of confusing tax codes, for them to be in a coordinated effort to profile and target organizations and individuals based on their ideology should disturb everyone, says Hoyt. Everyone needs to think about what this means for this agency next year when they hire 17,000 more agents to enforce Obamacare's mandates.
Copies of all documentation related to Hoyt's situation have been delivered to U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster. I want to find out who sent those letters, who drafted those letters so whoever signed them ... the congressman has told Fox 35 News. I'm calling them to see what they have to say.
Time may tell whether these incidents are related to the mushrooming IRS controversy or are just isolated coincidences. If the former, KrisAnne Hall says those responsible literally need to pay.
The IRS should be paying for [these activists'] expenses and all the time that they spent putting [their defense] together, she insists. Some organizations have hired attorneys, and their attorneys' fees need to be paid for all of this work.
Reach Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at (954) 235-9116.