The Kentucky 9/12 Project, based in Georgetown, is one of 25 conservative groups across the nation that filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Internal Revenue Service for unfairly delaying their tax-exempt status.
The groups, which are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages to be determined at a trial, are represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington-based law group focused on religious and constitutional freedoms.
The 29-page lawsuit against the IRS, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and several other federal officials, contends that the Obama administration "unlawfully delayed and thereby effectively denied" the groups' applications for tax-exempt status.
The complaint says the delay was politically motivated and prohibited the groups from receiving various tax-exempt benefits for an extended period of time.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"The IRS and the federal government are not going to get away with this unlawful targeting of conservative groups," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, said in a news release.
An IRS official admitted earlier this month that the agency had targeted conservative groups in a presidential election year. The IRS later apologized for inappropriately flagging for increased scrutiny groups like the 9/12 Project, created in 2009 by TV and radio personality Glenn Beck.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, is necessary "because we feel that questions need to be answered and people need to be held accountable," said Eric Wilson of Georgetown, director of the Kentucky 9/12 Project, in a telephone interview.
Key IRS manager Lois Lerner invoked her right to not testify about the agency's targeting of conservative groups during congressional hearings last week, igniting protests from Republicans. In general, the hearings painted a picture of a bungling agency in which top managers in Washington were largely out of touch with how their staff in a Cincinnati field office was handling applications for tax exemptions.
Still, many questions have not been answered, including how the improper screening started, why it continued on and off for two years, and why top IRS officials did not reveal it for more than a year despite pointed questions from Congress and loud complaints from the targeted conservative groups.
The plaintiffs argue in the lawsuit that the federal government violated the U.S. Constitution, federal law and its own rules and regulations.
"The IRS over-reach and intimidation we experienced is a clear indication that this agency philosophically rejects the flow of authority crafted into our system of government," Lisa Abler, vice president of the Georgetown group, said in a news release. "Their arrogant actions run contrary to the concept of a government of the people instituted to secure inalienable rights with just power deriving from the consent of the governed. This disregard for the most fundamental principles of our nation must be rectified."
Wilson, a 43-year-old senior forecast analyst for a Lexington mattress manufacturer, began claiming in news releases in February 2012 that the IRS was delaying his group's application for special tax status by asking a lengthy list of personal questions.
President Barack Obama has called selective enforcement of IRS rules "inexcusable" and pledged to hold employees accountable, starting by accepting the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller on May 15.
Meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is already using the IRS controversy in his re-election campaign.
The Kentucky senator released a video on YouTube Wednesday titled "Demand Answers" that sharply criticizes IRS officials and President Obama. It paints Obama in the same light as the scandal-plagued administration of former President Richard Nixon, who used the IRS to go after opponents.
"I think that the leader of the free world and his advisers have better things to do than to dig through other people's tax returns," says McConnell.