Were certainly not about protesting and picketing. That happens to be a small part of what we do. When we do go to Planned Parenthood, were going there to pray, said Martinek, who said her group focused on educational forums and wasnt a conduit for funneling money to political campaigns.
Ironically, Planned Parenthood does enjoy the type of tax-exempt status that Martineks group originally sought.
The story is similar for Christian Voices for Life of Fort Bend County, an anti-abortion group in suburban Houston.
The IRS asked it, too, about protest plans. The IRS also asked for copies of grants and contracts. I was quite surprised to see that our application wasnt just immediately accepted, said Marie McCoy, the groups executive director.
In March 2011, an IRS employee in El Monte, Calif., asked in a grammatically challenged letter whether the group protested in front of medical facilities.
In your educational program, do you education on both sides of the issues in your program? IRS Exempt Organization Specialist Tyrone Thomas asked in the letter, a copy of which was provided by the Thomas More Society.
Thomas also asked, do you try to block people to enter a building, e. medical clinic, or any other facility?
The IRS hasnt said who originally authored or authorized any of the questions that it now says were part of inappropriate criteria applied to conservative groups.
My first thought was that this particular agent was incompetent and didnt know the law, said McCoy, who described Thomas as polite but resolute. McClatchy tried to reach Thomas via the number on his correspondence, but no one answered the calls.
Engelbrecht, 43, can sympathize.
Concerned about government regulation of her familys manufacturing business, she became dissatisfied with the political process and particularly the 2008 presidential choices.
She discovered like-minded viewpoints and attended rallies, organizing a group called the King Street Patriots. It holds weekly meetings that include speakers on a range of topics, and it held a countywide candidates forum last year.
After witnessing what she called voter irregularities in the Houston area, Engelbrecht formed a group called True the Vote. With a paid staff of five, it aims to educate 1 million poll workers nationwide on spotting election fraud. Liberal groups view it as a conservative effort aimed at restricting minority participation, a claim that True the Vote officials deny.
In summer 2010, the groups sought IRS tax-exempt status. Six months later, Engelbrecht and her husband faced their first-ever audit.
IRS agents came to a small family farm, counted the cattle, looked at the fence line, she said.
The IRS continued to pepper True the Vote with questions, Engelbrecht said. In February 2012, the IRS sent the organization a 10-page letter with 39 questions including a request for all of your activity on Facebook and Twitter. Last week, still without a decision, True the Vote filed suit in federal district court asking for tax-exempt status.
The experience of retired Army Lt. Col. Mark Drabik suggests a possible new dimension to the IRS story.
After retiring in 2009 from a distinguished military career, he took a civilian job at the Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb. For the first time in his adult life, he could express political beliefs openly. He frequently wrote to elected officials and participated in conservative marches in Washington, attending national tea party events and donating to conservative talk-show host Glenn Becks 912 movement.
Then came an audit letter from the IRS.
The agency questioned him about church donations, deductions for family respite care which provides caregivers with a brief rest and his daughters equine therapy, he said. A doctor prescribed the last two as necessary because of the stress of caring for Drabiks 19-year-old autistic son. The deductions had been claimed for almost a decade without IRS complaint.
Amid the IRS scandal, Drabik now wonders whether his support of conservative causes is to blame.
I did contribute to them. I did participate in the marches. Thats what worries me, said Drabik, 49, whos fighting the IRS over a sum in the ballpark of $20,000. After losing an IRS appeal, he was entitled to a second appeal, which to his great surprise went to the same person who handled his first.
The agency is prohibited from commenting on the cases of individuals.
For Drabik, a seed of doubt has been planted.
I have to feel that that was a potential trigger for the audit, he said, noting that the sum of his church donations and therapy deductions was pretty constant over almost a decade. I am just a common citizen, who honorably served his nation for 23 years, who has not had this experience before and now honestly questions the actions and motivation of the IRS and how far they have gone in their actions.