By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – The weather may be warming up in Wisconsin, but there’s a political chill on the conservative grassroots ground in the Badger State.
While they once harbored suspicions the IRS might be targeting them for partisan reasons, now many tea party and patriot groups say they are convinced.
“It’s been scary” said Kim Simac, president and founder of the Eagle River-based Northwoods Patriots told Wisconsin Reporter. “I had resigned myself to the idea that the cars could come up the driveway someday.”
Like scores of fellow conservative organizations nationally bearing the name “Tea Party” or “Patriots” or “9/12” seeking tax-exempt status, Simac’s Patriots confronted “intimidating” forms.
“We all knew it was going on. I’m just glad it’s being flushed out,” said Simac, who unsuccessfully ran against then-incumbent Sen. Jim Hoperin, D-Conover, in a 2011 recall election. “Everybody on both sides should want to have a legitimate, credible and reliable government.”
Lois Lerner, the IRS executive who led the division that flagged and stalled conservative groups’ applications for tax-exempt status, invoked her constitutional rights against self-incrimination Wednesday, refusing to talk about the scandal at a House Oversight Committee hearing. Lerner would only say she didn’t do anything wrong and broke no laws.
“I have not violated any IRS rules and regulations,” Lerner said adding that, contrary to lawmakers’ claims, she never lied to Congress.
But Lerner’s pleading the Fifth Amendment only fueled conservative concerns in the politically charged scandal. Republicans, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, have called on President Obama to appoint a special prosecutor. The president has declined that call.
On Sunday, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, called the scandal “rotten to the core,” asserting the IRS’ actions give the American people the opportunity to see “big government in practice.”
State Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, a year before his election in 2010, built the Fox Valley Initiative, a political action committee with a mission to “promote limited government, lower taxes, and integrity and accountability in government.”
Steineke said he hasn’t had anything to do with the PAC in a couple of years, but he still is connected to his region’s tea party grassroots movement. The conservative lawmaker admitted to being reluctant in talking to a reporter about the IRS scandal.
“When I got the message that you had called about this particular story, I hesitated to call back and speak out,” Steineke said of Wisconsin Reporter’s request for an interview. “Nobody wants to be a target of the IRS or any other federal agent.
“I had to think about it, and that is troubling,” he added. “But this is too important of an issue for us, whether we are state legislators or any other citizen — We have to speak out.”
Marv Munyon, secretary/treasurer for the Rock River Patriots, a southern Wisconsin tea party organization, told Wisconsin Reporter earlier this month he applied for 501(c)(4) for the group in April 2012. The organization had yet to be approved, although the IRS cashed the Rock River Patriots’ application fee of $400 on May 2, 2012, according to Munyon.
He said he received a letter Jan. 29, 2013, informing him “the initial screening of the application of your case should be assigned to an exempt organizations specialist for technical review. We assign applications to specialists in the order that we receive them.”
The letter further states, “Unfortunately, we are experiencing delays in working applications that require further development.”
Although he has filed the organization’s tax forms, noting the tax-exempt application was pending, Munyon said he still was awaiting word from the IRS.
“I just got a bunch of static out of the IRS,” he said.
John Pierce, vice chairman of the Fox Valley Initiative, said he doesn’t want the IRS scandal to be a “jumping off point” to make conservatives look like they’re sad, abused people. He just wants the facts to go where they may go.
“If Obama and his groups have the arrogance to continue to push this, I think the events will unfold,” Pierce said.
For now, he said, tea party organizations appear to be in the same boat.
“Some of us have been targeted, others not,” Pierce said. “I think this thing should be investigated.”
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org