Amid the continued national controversy over IRS scrutiny of Tea Party groups’ tax filings, the leader of the Nevada County chapter said its state exemption was approved last week, nearly two years after the group’s first application.
“I feel relieved because this whole episode has taken so long to get taken care of,” said Nancy Garcia, president of the Nevada County Tea Party.
“This whole thing should have been done in a matter of four months,” she said. “Some groups are still waiting.”
The IRS has been under fire since May, when one of its officials publicly apologized for targeting conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status for close examination.
Since then, President Barack Obama has replaced the agency’s acting director, and several other top IRS officials have stepped down.
Several Republicans have said they believe the focus on conservative groups came from the White House, yet no direct ties to top administration officials have been publicly established in ongoing investigations by three congressional committees and the FBI.
On Tuesday, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., released a 205-page transcript of a June 6 congressional investigators’ interview of John Shafer, a self-described conservative Republican who oversaw a small group of IRS workers who screen applications for tax-exempt status.
Shafer, a 21-year IRS veteran, told investigators that the close scrutiny of Tea Party groups’ tax forms originated in his Cincinnati IRS office and not in Washington, contrary to the testimony of Gary Muthert, one of the IRS screeners who told congressional investigators in a separate interview that his supervisor told him to look for applicants with “Tea Party” in their name because Washington wanted them.
“I think most people are beginning to wonder if there is any accountability for what happens,” Garcia said. “We expect our government to have some accountability for what happened.”
The Nevada County Tea Party garnered its federal IRS tax exemption in November, after first applying more than a year earlier, according to Garcia, who has said that without the IRS tax exemption, California tax agencies would not recognize her organization’s nonprofit status.
That state exemption was at the heart of an internal Nevada County Tea Party scuffle that saw its then-leader ousted May 20 amid his allegations of financial impropriety.
Garcia, whose presidency was reaffirmed in the same vote, attested that a $2,250 tax lien stemmed from lacking that exemption.
The state reportedly notified the Nevada County Tea Party on June 13 that it recognized the exemption, Garcia said. But the state Franchise Board did not list the Nevada County Tea Party on its list of exempted organizations on its website Wednesday.
Even with both state and federal tax exemptions, Garcia said her group plans to remain part of a class-action lawsuit against the IRS filed by its founder, Mark Meckler, and the NorCal Tea Party Patriots, which the local branch’s board of directors voted to join on May 28.
“Being on the lawsuit is for everybody,” Garcia said. “It’s wanting to say that this could happen to any American, any group. I think that is wrong, I don’t think our government should target any group, no matter where you are on the political spectrum.”
Since sprouting the local Tea Party, Meckler has gone on to become a national figure in the movement. Meckler, a Chicago Park resident, will be on hand at the Nevada County Tea Party’s June 25 meeting at the Nevada County Fairgrounds’ Ponderosa Hall to talk about a range of issues, Garcia said. While he is expected to give an update on the lawsuit, Garcia said Meckler will also discuss the power of participation in local governance and reducing federal power.
“I would encourage people to come to our meetings and learn about us,” Garcia said. “If you care about what is happening to our freedoms, you need to get involved and help with the battle for our freedoms.”
The IRS scrutiny has put the Tea Party movement back in the public eye.
While that attention has helped bolster new, energized recruits, Garcia said it has also pushed some supporters away.
“It has had two sides of a coin — two totally different reactions. It has caused people to wake up and realize what is happening and that arouses their interest,” Garcia said. “On the other hand, some people are afraid of IRS scrutiny. People are afraid to have their name on a list and afraid to come to a meeting because they are afraid the IRS may go after them.”
As part of its opposition to the IRS, the Nevada County Tea Party plans a festive protest from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday at the corner of Brunswick Road and Sutton Way. Touching on another IRS controversy over accusations that the agency spent at least $4.1 million on lavish conferences and other misuses of taxpayer funds, local Tea Party participants will periodically conduct line dancing drills at the protest — a jab at the $50,000 the IRS allegedly spent during the conference on training videos, which also included a line-dancing routine.
“I hope people see us. Particularly, our fine line-dancing group, none of whom are particularly good at line dancing,” Garcia said with a chuckle. “We thought it would be fun to put some humor in it. Everything is so darned serious these days.”
The Associated Press’ Alan Fram contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.