The anti-gay marriage group first published its allegations against the IRS on its website this spring and called for a federal probe to identify who leaked the document.
The National Organization for Marriage’s 2008 tax filing included information about a $10,000 donation from the political action committee Free and Strong America, which is tied to former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The donation had not been disclosed to the Federal Election Commission by the PAC, though it had been disclosed at the state level by an Alabama-based chapter of the PAC, according to Human Rights Campaign.
The confidential donor list in the tax filing was republished by the Huffington Post, which wrote about the Romney PAC donation. The Huffington Post wrote that the document was given to the HRC by a “whistleblower.”
At the time the document was posted, the Human Rights Campaign was run by a major fundraiser for President Barack Obama’s re-election effort, and today is run by another.
Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, has been a major fundraiser for Democrats and sat on the national finance committee of Obama’s re-election campaign. Griffin joined the Human Rights Campaign in April 2012, and his predecessor, Joe Solmonese, was named in February 2012 one of 35 national campaign co-chairs for the Obama re-election effort. Solmonese’s last day was March 31, 2012, a day after the confidential tax document was published on his group’s website. The group’s media office did not return phone and email requests for comment.
A constitutional law professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, Calif., Eastman told lawmakers that the gay-rights group redacted portions of the confidential tax document that showed an internal IRS stamp that does not appear on documentation shared with taxpayers. The stamp is only seen internally by the IRS.
By publishing the names of the confidential donors to the group, the Human Rights Campaign subjected these donors to harassment from individuals who did not share their view, Eastman said. When group members sought information about the leak of confidential information, they were told by the IRS that the agency could not discuss confidential taxpayer information.
“I ask you to think about the irony of that,” Eastman testified.
South Carolina’s Belsom told lawmakers how her application for tax-exempt status in 2011 dragged into late 2012 amid “extremely burdensome” requests for documentation.
The IRS asked for copies of the group’s articles of incorporation, something Belsom said accompanied her original application, and wanted copies of the group’s work on social media websites, names of its speakers and whether guest speakers ever commented about elections.
About a dozen people in the packed hearing room burst into applause after Becky Gerritson, head of the Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama, choked back tears as she spoke.
“I want to preserve and protect the America that I grew up in. . . . I am terrified that it is slipping away,” she said.
Anti-abortion activist Sue Martinek, who heads Coalition for Life for Iowa and was profiled last week by McClatchy, won sympathy from the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee because her group was told its approval would be conditioned on its members refraining from picketing women’s health provider Planned Parenthood.
That was “totally worse than inappropriate,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich. “You should not have been asked that. And as personnel of the IRS are inquired of, I would think that may be looked into.”
The hearing at times descended into political bickering. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., reminded the witnesses that their free speech rights remained intact, they were free to express themselves and the only issue in question was the delay of their seeking a tax subsidy from the government via the tax-exempt status.
“We’re talking about a tax break. If you didn’t come in and ask for this tax break, you never would have had a question asked of you,” McDermott said, adding that “Republicans are looking for a conspiracy where there isn’t one.”
He was followed by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who was on the Republican presidential ticket last year for his pull with conservative groups such as the tea party.
“So you’re to blame, I guess is the message here,” Ryan sarcastically told the assembled conservative witnesses as the audience snickered.