The ordeal was at first long and slow, and then short and painful.
With word Thursday of settlements by the Justice Department on two class action suits by conservative organizations targeted by Barack Obama’s IRS, the memories of it all resurfaced for those of us who were victims. Allow me to recount the sordid tale of how the organization I founded, One Generation Away (parent organization of Liberty Nation) watched and waited 28 long months for what should have been routine, and then had it all taken away in a flash at the whim of the most powerful agency of the federal government. It is an alarming and troubling story.
When a group of us formed OneGen back in July of 2010, our mission was clearly stated – to “Apply America’s Founding Principles to the Issues of Today.” We began the organization to help correct the imbalance in the nation writ large — and an education system in particular — largely evacuated of honest and substantive teaching about the American founding era.
It all seemed quite simple and straightforward. We were advised that it would take six to twelve months to get our tax exemption approved. Little did we realize that teaching about the U.S. Constitution and the founding principles would suddenly become so threatening to the leftist authorities in power that they would come to employ sinister and intimidating tactics to shut down our educational activities.
THE SLOW DRIP
Months after filing for 501(c)3 status, we still had received no word from the IRS, and it appeared that they had not even received our application. Sure enough, they claimed to have no record of it. So, we re-filed the application, and the process started all over again. Things felt “fishy,” but what evidence did we have? Then, after another protracted period — 18 months — we finally received our tax exemption. But the timing seemed most suspicious.
The cherished exemption was granted six days after Barack Obama was re-elected. The evident IRS mission of intimidating conservative start-ups had succeeded. The 44th president was now safely ensconced in the White House for four more years.
Frustrating as it was, the worst – by far – was yet to come.
One year later, in November of 2013, as I was preparing for Thanksgiving and enjoying the onrushing holiday season, my heart raced as I opened a certified letter from the Internal Revenue Service. In it, the agency claimed it had not received the required form 990 from OneGen for three straight years, and thus was required by law to remove our tax exemption – the very thing that permitted us to solicit tax-deductible contributions and keep the organization afloat.
My blood pressure rose to nearly unprecedented levels. As I began to plan a response, my first thought was that this must have been some kind of mistake. We had clearly filed the returns for all three years. We had copies of the returns themselves, and I had the bills, emails and paperwork from the CPA to prove it. Unless they would conclude that I had thrice forgotten the most basic filing requirement and had hatched some spy-movie plot to falsify returns and fabricate fake invoices, this should be open-and-shut.
But then, it hit me. The IRS possibly could have misplaced or lost one return. Two would be only mathematically possible. Three was inconceivable. Especially when all non-profit returns went to one single IRS location in Utah.
Something else was clearly at play.
We submitted copies of the returns and email chains proving that the returns had been compiled professionally and paid for, but the IRS was unmoved. They sent us a letter saying they were not allowed by law to reverse their judgment. No appeal was possible. Bottom line: they used their power to strip us of our tax-exempt status. Thus, what began as a sneaking suspicion transformed into transparent political motives to silence us.
We were screwed.
THIS, IN AMERICA?
Understanding this crushing blow — not just the loss of our exemption, but the jolting reality that this could actually happen in America – I felt compelled to bear the burden alone rather than infecting my associates and family with this disheartening news, so I waited for a few months to tell them.
The obvious question you might ask is, how come I didn’t get return receipts for the filings? I asked myself that question many times, but the answer was actually simple. In almost 40 years of filing returns of various sorts, not a single one had ever been lost. Return receipts had never been pro forma. And when I asked the high-powered lawyer who eventually extricated us from this nightmare if I had committed an obvious oversight, he responded by saying he has never even advised his own clients to demand receipts from the IRS. He never felt it was necessary.
The IRS Director of the Exempt Organizations Unit, Lois Lerner, had played “gotcha” with us and won.
Our attorney said that this form of targeting – through strictly bureaucratic means – was something he had never before witnessed. In most cases, these abusive actions by the IRS were leveled with crushing demands made on grassroots tea party and like-minded organizations. Many were required, for example, to provide exhaustive transcripts of every event, every speech, every communication under their auspices. Their applications were delayed as more and more onerous burdens were placed on groups unable to comply for lack of manpower and funding.
In the fall of 2014 – approximately one year and tens of thousands of dollars later – our 501(c)3 status was restored through a new process designed for those who had their exemptions withdrawn. The IRS knew they’d been caught red-handed and created a half-baked remedy.
OneGen was later included in the class action suit against the IRS by the Northern California Tea Party which was finally settled on Thursday.
THE CHILLING REALITY
This four-year-long episode generated great personal angst, and the helpless feeling of being targeted by an all-powerful agency of an all-powerful government committed to muzzling its opponents at any cost. Chilling. But what remains most powerfully etched in my memory of those times is that this must be like what happens in those dictatorships ruled by men rather than laws. And this, I wondered, is what America has become?
We are now witnessing the next phase of this long march toward the fundamental transformation of America with the left’s refusal to accept the outcome of the election, the naked complicity of the elite media, and the physically and verbally violent suppression of free speech on campuses across the land. All of it spawned by the decision to employ the IRS to kneecap those who didn’t conform to their worldview.
Now that the left no longer controls the government: they are afraid of what they think Donald Trump might do to them during his time in the White House. But their worst fears could hardly be more real than what Barack Obama actually did in unleashing the power of the presidency to crush those of us who dared to raise our voices in opposition.