AUSTIN, Texas — On Thursday, a federal judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia entered an order dismissing a lawsuit filed by True the Vote, a Houston, Texas-based non-profit organization focused on “voters’ rights and election integrity” against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The order alleged that the IRS had improperly delayed granting their application for 501(c)(3) status and targeted them as a conservative organization. The opinion, by Judge Reggie B. Walton, found that the IRS had taken sufficient “remedial steps to address the alleged behavior.”
Breitbart Texas spoke with Logan Churchwell, True the Vote’s communications director, after the court’s ruling was released, and he shared some important details about the timeline of this case. One of the main issues argued in True the Vote’s lawsuit was that the IRS had improperly delayed granting their 501(c)(3) application, which is the section of the IRS code conferring tax-exempt status on qualifying non-profit organizations. True the Vote filed their application during the summer of 2010, and pursuant to the IRS’s own rules, the agency had a duty to send a response within 270 days. That deadline was not met. Instead, years went by, while True the Vote, founder Catherine Engelbrecht, and King Street Patriots, another tea party group with which Engelbrecht was affiliated, all found themselves subject to invasive requests for records and information from not only the IRS, but also the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In May 2013, news broke that the IRS admitted targeting conservative organizations applying for 501(c)(3) status with “special scrutiny,” and True the Vote filed their lawsuit later that month. “We knew we were getting questions about a lot of things other than tax returns,” said Churchwell, describing the “strange questions” asked by IRS agents that seemed far beyond the scope of what they had expected, including number of Facebook “likes,” membership lists, and content of internal organizational communications.
The IRS finally granted True the Vote’s 501(c)(3) status in September 2013. Almost a year later, in July 2014, while waiting for the judge to issue a ruling on the parties’ initial briefs, more news broke: that emails from Lois Lerner’s computer had been “lost” in a computer crash. True the Vote filed a new motion seeking to begin discovery, arguing that the news meant that there was a real risk that relevant evidence could be lost or destroyed. The court denied that motion and then took no further substantive action until today’s ruling, which dismissed the entire case.
Judge Walton’s opinion stated that because the IRS had finally granted True the Vote their 501(c)(3) status, the case “no longer warrant[ed] the Court’s attention and further use of its resources,” and deemed True the Vote’s lawsuit to now be moot. However, True the Vote had argued specific costs that the IRS’ delay had caused them, including fees for attorneys and CPAs, as well as fundraising losses. A number of other non-profit organizations and other donors had either pledged or donated money to True the Vote with the understanding that the group would have official 501(c)(3) status soon. Some of these groups even had requirements in their organizational documents that they could only give money to other approved 501(c)(3) organizations. According to Churchwell, the IRS’ years-long delay acted as a “functional denial of our application” and True the Vote was forced to return some donations, and other pledges were revoked. Churchwell described the total costs to True the Vote caused by the IRS’ delay to be nearly $90,000.
Churchwell told Breitbart Texas that while today’s ruling was not the result they had sought, they were nonetheless “appreciative of the D.C. District Court’s service and opinion on this matter and is currently considering all legal options,” including possible appeals of the decision. Engelbrecht also released a statement to Breitbart Texas:
“We are stunned by today’s judgment. The notion that the IRS can target Americans for years because of their political beliefs is reprehensible. The Court acknowledges in its opinion that the IRS did in fact target True the Vote for our perceived political beliefs, but then it holds that neither the agency nor the individual IRS agents or officers are responsible for this unconstitutional conduct. Right now, we are considering all legal options and will announce our next steps very soon.”
[Disclaimer: Prior to joining True the Vote, Churchwell was previously the Breitbart Texas assignments manager.]
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter at @rumpfshaker.