Nation & World

Kentucky activist to IRS: 'Apology not accepted'

In February 2012, conservative activist Eric Wilson of Georgetown began claiming in news releases that the IRS was delaying his group's application for special tax status by asking personal questions.

Fifteen months later, Wilson said he was "relieved" when an IRS official admitted Friday that the agency had targeted conservative groups in a presidential election year. Wilson is director of the Kentucky 9/12 Project and co-chair of the national group.

At an American Bar Association meeting, Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS unit that oversees tax-exempt groups, said organizations that included the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their applications for tax-exempt status were singled out. She said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati.

The IRS apologized for inappropriately flagging for increased scrutiny groups like the 9/12 Project, created in 2009 by TV and radio personality Glenn Beck.

"I'd love to say I feel vindicated but more needs to be done," Wilson said Monday about the IRS apology. "While this is a victory for free speech and liberty, I would say 'apology not accepted.' There are many questions that still need to be asked. There are many that remain unanswered."

Wilson, a 43-year-old senior forecast analyst for a Lexington mattress manufacturer, said he would like to see a congressional investigation and hinted that legal action may be taken.

President Barack Obama on Monday said there's "no place" for selective enforcement of IRS rules and that employees should be held accountable.

"I can tell you that if you've got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions and people have to be held accountable and it's gotta be fixed," Obama said during a joint appearance with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Obama said he learned about the alleged malfeasance on Friday from news reports.

Wilson said his group was one of the first "to face the overreaching authority of the IRS."

"It was clear to us in February 2012 that our organization was being singled out due to implied affiliation with Glenn Beck and patriot organizations," Wilson said. "It has become apparent with the IRS admission that we were correct in our fears and that they unjustly targeted our organization. We believe these attacks were coordinated and targeted."

Wilson said the Kentucky 9/12 Project filed for a special tax status in December 2010 with the IRS office in Cincinnati. It sought a 501(c)(4) status, which would allow the group to sell merchandise, such as t-shirts, without charging taxes. Donations to the group would not be deductible for tax purposes.

Such 501(c)(4) organizations are not required to disclose their donors publicly. That lack of disclosure has become controversial as some groups spend heavily on political advertisements.

"We don't have that much money," said Wilson, who volunteers as the Kentucky group's director. He said his group represents about 3,000 people. Its stated purpose is to unite Americans as they were on Sept. 12, 2011, the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and to follow nine conservative principles and 12 values pushed by Beck.

Soon after applying for the tax status, Wilson said, his group received notification from the IRS that a determination would be made within 90 days.

But 14 months later, on Feb. 14, 2012, the IRS sent Wilson's group a four-page letter asking for documentation to answer 88 separate inquiries. The group had two weeks to comply.

"Even more alarming," Wilson said, "was the personal nature of the information the IRS was requesting and its overreaching questions."

The IRS wanted information on the groups members, donors and family members of the board.

"It was outside the bounds," he said.

On April 1 of this year, Kentucky 9/12 Project received a one-paragraph response from the IRS, saying its request for special tax status had been granted, Wilson said.

"There were no further questions. There was no explanation for the 2 ½ -year delay," Wilson said.

Congress should investigate, he said.

Already, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, have called for a full investigation.

Kentucky's two U.S. senators also have spoken out against the IRS.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, said Obama should order a "transparent, government-wide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not under way at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views."

McConnell noted that he issued "a very public warning" last year to the administration that the targeting of private citizens on the basis of their political views would not be tolerated.

The apology by the IRS is "proof that those concerns were well-founded," he said.

Wilson said his group and others are working with the American Center for Law and Justice to determine what legal steps to take.

He described the Washington-based law center as "the conservative's ACLU."

Wilson said he is pleased that the issue "finally is getting widespread media attention."

"I believe Fridays are usually the day of the week the media like to dump stories that generally are ignored. This one was dumped on Friday but it is not being ignored," he said. "When wolves smell blood, they try to go after the kill."

McClatchy Washington Bureau reporters Anita Kumar and Lesley Clark contributed to this story.