Information requested included "details regarding all of your activity on Facebook and Twitter" and whether top officials' relatives serve in other organizations or plan to run for elective office. The IRS also sought the political affiliation of every person who has provided the group with educational services and minutes of every board meeting "since your creation."
"This is a modern-day witch hunt," said Wilson, whose 9/12 group and others around the country were inspired by conservative activist Glenn Beck.
Other conservative organizations described similar experiences.
A January IRS letter to the Richmond Tea Party requests the names of donors, the amounts each contributed and details on how the funds were used. The Ohio Liberty Council received an IRS letter last month seeking the credentials of speakers at the group's public events. In a February letter, the IRS asked the Waco Tea Party of Texas whether its officials have a "close relationship" with any candidates for office or political parties, and was asked for events they plan this year.
"The crystal ball I was issued can't predict the future," and future events will depend on factors like what Congress does this year, said Toby Marie Walker, president of the Waco group.
The IRS provided a five-paragraph written response to a reporter's questions about its actions. It noted that the tax code allows tax-exempt status to "social welfare" groups, which are supposed to promote the common good of the community.
Groups can engage in some political activities "so long as, in the aggregate, these non-exempt activities are not its primary activities," the IRS statement said.
"Career civil servants make all decisions on exemption applications in a fair, impartial manner and do so without regard to political affiliation or ideology," the agency said.
There were 139,000 groups in the U.S. with 501 (c) (4) tax-exempt status in 2010, the latest year of available IRS data. More than 1,700 organizations applied for that designation in 2010 while over 1,400 were approved. Such volume means it might take months for the IRS to assign applications to agents, said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a Notre Dame law professor who specializes in election and tax law.
Ever since a 2010 Supreme Court decision allowing outside groups to spend unlimited funds in elections, such organizations have been under scrutiny.
Two nonpartisan campaign finance watchdogs called on the IRS last fall to strip some large groups of tax-exempt status, claiming they engage in so much political activity that they don't qualify for the designation.
Last month, seven Democratic senators asked the IRS to investigate whether some groups were improperly using tax-exempt status — they didn't name any organizations — because those groups are "improperly engaged in a substantial or even a predominant amount of campaign activity."
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