PEORIA, ILLINOIS — Tea Party-affiliated activists in the Midwestern United States say they are outraged, but not surprised, by revelations that the tax-collecting arm of the U.S. government has been unfairly scrutinizing applications by conservative groups for tax-exempt status. The scandal forced the acting head of the Internal Revenue Service [IRS] to step down this week, and is prompting Congressional investigations.
Former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, a Republican, has heard a lot about the IRS from his conservative supporters, and not just in the last several weeks.
“I had, during my two years in Congress, had heard from a number of groups that there was increased activity, a lot of questions and reports being asked by the Internal Revenue Service, so we weren’t surprised, but, now that it's official, incredibly outraged,” said Walsh.
Walsh was elected to office in the 2010 mid-term elections, around the time the IRS began scrutinizing applications for tax-exemption from politically-conservative groups, aiming its probes at groups that had "Tea Party," "Patriot" and other key words in their names.
Walsh said the practice affected many of those who supported him in that election, and in his failed bid to retain his seat in the 2012 election.
“Hearing from a number of my donors, some wealthy Republican conservative, slash [/], donors who also would raise some concerns about notices they were getting from the IRS, and I think this was building up across the country,” he said.
“We always assumed or suspected that that’s what was happening, because I talk to folks all across the country, so we know that people were being held up for 12 months,” said Illinois Tea Party founder Denise Cattoni.
She said some conservative groups in her state decided to forgo applying for tax-exempt status for fear of drawing unwelcome attention from the IRS.
“Once word got out in 2010 that that was happening, there were some groups that said it’s just not worth it. I never got involved in this to be targeted by the IRS,” she said.
Walsh has channeled the outrage at the IRS onto his nightly conservative talk radio show, where he says he is now hearing from more than just his regular conservative listeners.
“On the radio show, [its] not just Tea Party people. For a lot of us who have been afraid of something like this for a long long time, this is what we are talking about,” said Walsh.
The IRS has publicly apologized for its wrongdoing, and President Barack Obama has expressed his outrage at the revelations, though conservative activists say that is not enough.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill already are probing the issue further, and plan a series of committee hearings in both the House and Senate.