The Lehigh Valley Tea Party has followed the rules since its creation in 2009. Our organization has tried very hard to do everything the way we're supposed to. We consulted lawyers and advocacy experts about legal options for non-profit grassroots organizations, and applied to the IRS for tax exempt status just like non-profit groups engaged in all kinds of activities do all over the nation every day.
We believe that the Lehigh Valley Tea Party provides a vehicle for patriotic Americans with a wide variety of political affiliations to voice their opinions and become more educated about the important issues of the day. We are not a political organization, and our group's bylaws specifically prevent us from endorsing or opposing political parties or candidates.
Although the Lehigh Valley Tea Party group was not selected by the IRS for an audit, news of a sudden flurry of harassment spread like a panic among all Tea Party organizations nationwide. In many cases, the IRS demanded that tea party and other patriotic groups who were engaged in the application process report on every comment on their Facebook pages, or to turn over lists of attendees or donors. It was understood by the groups which were targeted in this way that this was uncommon treatment, and many groups attempted to inform the media about this clear discrimination against conservative groups, but there was little coverage of the issue.
Suddenly, as a result of the news of enhanced scrutiny of some tea party groups, no one knew what we were allowed to say or whether we were permitted to take public positions on important issues at all without affecting our ability to obtain tax exempt status. This uncertainty had a chilling effect on our every undertaking. Some of our members even expressed that they believed we were allowing the IRS to bully us into silence.
Although our application seemed to have been held up for over a year, the Lehigh Valley Tea Party Group has recently been granted 501(c)(4) status as a non profit group focused primarily on education, which has been our organization's mission since the group was formed. We are grateful that we were not specifically targeted for enhanced scrutiny, but recognize that we could have been.
It is outrageous that the Internal Revenue Service would target organizations for special scrutiny based upon their view of our government's policies, and whether or not those organizations agree with any presidential administration. While our group espouses responsible fiscal policies such as balanced budgets and lower taxes, the last time we checked the Constitution guarantees us the right to express those positions.
It's frightening to think that any administration would direct the IRS to make it more difficult for groups which disagree with its own point of view to obtain the non-profit status which should be available to all legitimate organizations, regardless of ideological positions. Our concerns about this powerful entity are magnified because the Internal Revenue Service has been tasked with implementation of many of the provisions of the new health care law. Obviously, we don't know yet who directed the IRS to single out Tea Party organizations, but we will be watching the ongoing investigations very closely and support Congressional hearings to find out exactly who is responsible for this outrage.