DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Some Tea Party groups in Texas are buzzing over letters they've begun to receive from the Internal Revenue Service.
The groups applied for tax-exempt status –– in some cases as far back as three years ago –– but only this month received letters from the IRS demanding what many consider to be intrusive information.
And they say they've been given only days to provide it.
Ken Emanuelson has talked with his Tea Party peers across North Texas. They've received IRS letters similar to one sent to a Waco group, which demands reams of inside information in order to qualify for 501(c)(4) status –– a declaration necessary to be labeled as a nonprofit organization.
As a lawyer, he sees some questions as standard boilerplate language; others, he says, are intrusive.
"But if they're starting to ask about who your volunteers are, what are your internal discussion about things, those don't seem like they're any of the IRS's business," he said. "Apparently it's normal to get a few questions back from the IRS but they're usually fairly cursory questions and most fellows I talked to said most of those can be handled over the phone. Normally, that there's not this extensive submission of large chunks of paper."
The letters also come with a prominent warning of penalties of perjury if the information is deliberately wrong. There is concern the Obama Administration is playing hardball in an election year.
SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson disagrees.
"If they'd been in business for 20 years they would've gotten letters like this regularly over that period of time; but the first time you get one it can be intimidating," he said. "It's their first rodeo and these horses are bigger and stronger and they buck harder than they're used to."
Jillson doubts the Tea Party is being treated differently from other politically active groups with the same status.
"But it is certainly the case that left-leaning organizations and right-leaning organizations should get the same treatment by the IRS and there's no sense in this that they're not," he said. "It's just that these are new Tea Party organizations."
National media reports indicate Texas is one of four states where Tea Parties were sent IRS letters.
The agency could clear things up, but a spokesman said federal law prevents them from commenting. Some groups are also suspicious of the timing and question why the IRS waited so long to demand information if they filed for an application two or three years ago.
Emanuelson has a possible theory.
"If you were trying to throw a monkey wrench into the Tea Party operation, sending them a bunch of letters right in the middle of the primary season would be one way to do it." He quickly adds, though, "but it just as easily could be a coincidence."
Emanuelson says his Tea Party's response will require hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents.
The deadline is Thursday and he's not sure it'll be ready in time. He's hoping for an extension, because he says his group is officially neutral.
"In the Dallas Tea Party we don't coordinate with campaigns, we don't endorse candidates, we work very hard to be even-handed," he said. "Obviously, we're in the political realm, but if we have a forum we make sure all the candidates are invited."
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