JennyBeth Martin rallies the troops on May 16, 2013
Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published an amazingly dishonest profile of Jenny Beth Martin, head of the national Tea Party Patriots organization. The gist of the 2000-word article was this: If the IRS hadn't 'victimized' the Tea Party, they would have died on the vine, but now they're revived. Praise the Lord and pass the donation plate!
Alex Seitz-Wald agrees with that assessment.
This may be the most important and lasting legacy of the IRS scandal. The media has moved on, and so have many Republicans, but the tea party, once left for dead, was reborn. Never mind that we now know that the IRS also targeted liberal groups, asked similarly intrusive questions of a lot of different kinds of groups, denied 501(c)4 status to only three groups (all progressives ones), that a self-described “conservative Republican” oversaw the office that handled the applications and that Republicans have been unable to tie the scandal to the White House.
None of that matters because, for a moment there, it looked like the tea party really had been victimized, and the tea party is most potent when playing the victim (of Obamacare, of establishment Republicans, of taxes, of government intrusion and so on).
The movement’s leaders recognized the opportunity in the scandal immediately. Martin invoked what she dubbed “Project Phoenix: It’s time to rise again.”
I respect and like Seitz-Wald, but he's wrong about the sequence here.
According to the Groundswell documents, meetings and message coordination was taking place on a daily basis via email groups and their weekly meeting. Key players included the Tea Party Patriots and True The Vote. Both of these organizations were among the first to step up and claim they had been 'victimized.' But before the IRS 'news' ever broke, activity had been going on behind the scenes.
In September, 2010, Max Baucus sent the IRS a letter asking them to survey 501(c)(4)(5) and (6) organizations to see if their purpose rose to the level of 'primary activity' to maintain their tax-qualified status. The letter of inquiry was in response to various news reports of dark money spending in the 2010 midterm election cycle.
In 2011, the IRS opened gift tax audits on five large donors. Though the names of the donors are not public, an immediate reaction sprang forth from Orrin Hatch. One could reasonably infer that the donors targeted for gift tax audits might be conservatives. Furthermore, here's some of what Hatch requested:
Any correspondence (including phone logs, emails, written notes, or electronic documents) generated with respect to the decision to enforce the gift tax against contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations, including correspondence between IRS employees (including both career employees and political appointees), or between or among the IRS, the Department of the Treasury, the Office of the White House Counsel, the Office of the White House Press Secretary, the Office of White House Political Affairs, and the Executive Office of the President.
3) Any correspondence (including phone logs, emails, written notes, or electronic documents) generated with respect to the proposed executive order requiring disclosure of political contributions by potential government contractors, or enforcement actions against 501(c)(4) organizations by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Election Commission. Please include correspondence between IRS employees (including both career employees and political appointees), or between or among the IRS, the Department of the Treasury, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Election Commission, the Office of the White House Counsel, the Office of the White House Press Secretary, the Office of White House Political Affairs, and the Executive Office of the President.
As far back as 2011, conservatives were readying their cannons for a barrage of fire over how 501c4 organizations were treated, both with respect to their structure and the tax treatment of gifts.
In July, 2011, a directive came down from on high ordering IRS personnel not to expend resources on gift tax audit questions as they might relate to social welfare (501(c)(4)) organizations. Forbes writer Kelly Phillips Erb was quick to leap into speculation that dropping the question was likely to be as politically motivated as raising it was.
The entire question of using 501(c)(4), (5) and (6) organizations as cover to shield billionaire donors was not hatched inside a basement deep in the bowels of the IRS, and the IRS does not exist in a vacuum. Lee Fang identified five organizations who took millions in secret donor money in 2010 while blithely claiming less than half their activity was political.
True the Vote/King Street Patriots
True the Vote was an organization that appeared to walk a fine line between civic education and outright advocacy. In July 2010, they filed for tax-exempt status as True the Vote/KSP (King Street Patriots). In October, 2010, reports surfaced of voter intimidation in the Houston area by members of KSP, and those reports were serious enough to warrant DOJ observers. At the same time, they put out a "scary video" about how the radical left was overrunning elections in Texas and warned people to be vigilant.
These actions led to a lawsuit in Texas, where the outcome was a ruling that King Street Patriots was not a non-profit organization, but a PAC operating for partisan purposes. Indeed, KSP/True the Vote's actual literature proves they were operating for political purposes, as evidenced by their self-published "Legislative Agenda for Texas" in 2011.
In October, 2012, Rep. Clyburn's office sent a long letter to True The Vote concerning their erroneous challenges to voters in various states and apparent signature fraud which took place in Ohio. Clyburn requested that the organization provide him with the data they used to challenge voters in various states, copies of their databases used, and computer software used by True the Vote to arrive at a list of challenges to the voter rolls.
Meanwhile Cleta Mitchell who served as the group's counsel, was pushing for the IRS to grant tax-exempt status to the now-restructured "True the Vote" organization. Mitchell's firm Foley & Lardner responded to numerous IRS requests for information that was actually relevant to their determination of its tax-exempt status, but once the news "broke" on May 10th about how the IRS was handling potential political organizations, Mitchell publishes a list of organizations which she viewed as "targets". On May 17th, there's a Congressional hearing, possibly the most rapid response on the part of Republicans ever. On May 21st, lawsuits are filed against the IRS. True the Vote is one of the groups most vocal about their "persecution" by the IRS, aided and abetted by the ever-willing Groundswell messaging group, who has lost Benghazi as its sole 'scandal' after the White House releases email which disproves their scurrilous allegations.
Tea Party Patriots
Tea Party Patriots isn't exactly a shrinking violet. In 2009 and 2010, they were the leaders of the "grassroots" anti-Obamacare effort. But before that, JennyBeth and her husband already had some serious IRS trouble, to the tune of nearly $700,000 in 2008. Magically, that debt melted away when she took the helm of the Tea Party Patriots group and started steering toward the far right with her then-partner Mark Meckler, who is now running several Texas-based tea party groups of his own after his abrupt resignation due to the unfortunate gun-at-the-airport incident.
A simple Google search on the name reveals just now political they are. They exist to be political. Here's a March 7, 2013 meeting memo where the Tea Party Patriots is identified as one of the many "allied outside grassroots organizations" opposing Obamacare, along with Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, Campaign for Liberty, Madison Project and the Senate Conservatives Fund. That last group in particular is hardly a civic education group.
In July, 2011, JennyBeth Martin herself spoke about primarying freshmen Congressmen who didn't bend to their will. That's not education; it's lobbying and clear-cut political activity.
In March, 2013 they promoted a scary video at CPAC in order to frighten the grassroots into action. That received tepid golf claps.
And so it came to pass that they used the one tool in the toolbox to mobilize those grassroots: mutual loathing of the IRS. No one likes the IRS, but they are universally hated by those liberty-loving, freedom-pounding tea party groups. Benghazi was for the veteran contingent. Abortion rights attacks were for the religious right groups. And the IRS 'scandal' was intended to unite them all once again under the tea party banner.
Don't believe me? Look at what JennyBeth Martin told the WSJ:
When Republican representatives scheduled hearings, Mrs. Martin located what she said were a dozen tea-party victims, prepped them and delivered them within 48 hours to congressional investigators, paying their airfares and hotels, according to several people involved in the process.
It came in handy that Mrs. Martin is on a first-name and cellphone basis with nearly all lawmakers with tea-party credentials. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R., Texas) says he and Mrs. Martin "text, email and talk" regularly. One evening this summer, Mrs. Martin changed into jeans and went out for Mexican food with Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa), who showed up in shorts and flip-flops. After hearing her at a meeting of conservatives on Capitol Hill, Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) asked her to come by his office to discuss strategy.
A dying grassroots group suddenly had the money to pay hotel and airfare for affiliate groups around the country to fly in for hearings? Who paid for that? The same "wealthy donor" who urged Martin to lose weight and undergo a makeover?
Civic education groups rarely have the privilege of texting and telephoning with lawmakers across the spectrum. But the Groundswell documents show the close working relationship of the United States Supreme Court via Ginni Thomas, the United States Senate via Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions, and the United States House of Representatives via Jim Bridenstine's office. The reason, of course, is that the Tea Party Patriots are political.
As we now know, environmental groups and liberal groups were also targeted, and liberal groups were the only ones denied tax-exempt status. This IRS 'scandal', as I've been saying from day one, was never, ever an organic happening. From the planned 'leak' by Lois Lerner to the false testimony by the Bush appointee at the IRS, it was contrived and planned to rally the troops in a coordinated mission of hate and hopefully, political gain.