WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress are accusing the Internal Revenue Service of unfairly targeting Tea Party groups, saying the tax agency is overreaching.
The fight over IRS tactics feeds right into the Tea Party's demand for smaller government.
Liberty Township Tea Party
The Liberty Township Tea Party meets in West Chester, Ohio, once a month. The conversation usually centers on politics and constitutional principles.
These days, however, the hot topic is the Internal Revenue Service -- specifically questioning why the tax agency won't approve the group's request to be considered non-profit.
"This isn't rocket science. We know what the rules are and we follow them," Tim Savaglio of the Liberty Township Tea Party told CBN News.
The group filed paperwork more than a year ago. In return, they received an unexpected laundry list of questions. Among other things, the IRS wanted to know the background of family members and personal information of each member and volunteer in their Tea Party organization.
"The ultimate goal is to kind of silence political activity," Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said.
Sekulow views such activity against Tea Party groups as harassment.
"I think the goal of the IRS and the hope was that you get these questions and you go 'You know what? Nevermind. I don't want to do this. I don't want to go through this process. This is too rigorous.' They ask for every donor's name, all the information that's ever been spoken about at your event," he said.
The ACLJ has been swamped with requests for help. Tea Party complaints against the IRS have come from numerous states, including Hawaii, California, Texas, Ohio, California, Kentucky, and Virginia.
Several groups even had to submit all Facebook posts and Twitter tweets. In some cases, they were given just a couple of weeks to gather all that information.
The IRS says that any group that wants to apply for non-profit status has to be primarily engaged in promoting the social welfare. The agency also says that this process has become a lot more complex and detailed because they don't want these non-profit groups intertwining with political campaigns.
But that answer isn't flying with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Dozens of congressmen signed a letter to the IRS saying it overstepped their authority.
"These demands go well beyond good faith, due diligence and appear designed to be logistically and financially impossible," the missive read. "These recent inquiries appear to constitute disparate treatment for no apparent reason other than the political persuasion of applicants."
Game of Chicken
Sekulow is advising Tea Party groups to call the IRS's bluff.
"We're going through and saying here's what to answer and then here just put 'no, this violates my First Amendment rights. And then you submit that form," Jordan said. "Then it's up to the IRS. They will have to decide -- are they going to fight this or is that enough information basically for them?"
It appears to be a political game of chicken. Meanwhile, Tea Party groups are using this ordeal to remember what started their movement in the first place.
"When you start to lose trust in your government agencies then it becomes an 'us against them' mentality, and that's not the way it supposed to be," Savaglio told CBN News.
"I think it goes back to what the Tea Party is all about: less government is better," he said. "Bigger government is not better government. Smaller government is better government."