HONOLULU—Members of a local tea party group targeted by the IRS asked Congress Thursday to appoint a special prosecutor to determine whether the federal agency used its powers unfairly to target conservative groups.
Tea Party Maui was the subject of a 26-month IRS investigation following the group’s application for a 501-c-4 tax-exempt status. In the process, the IRS demanded responses to piles of documents with probing questions about the organization, its members, their family members and affiliations.
Already part of a national class-action lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service, Tea Party Maui made its call for a special prosecutor at a meeting during which the group also elected its newest president, Jim Wagoner, 87, a Maui retailer.
Special prosecutors have been appointed in the past, most recently to investigate President Bill Clinton.
In this case, some Hawaii officials responded, a special prosecutor is warranted.
“I support a full investigation into this matter so that this administration can get to the bottom of what occurred and hold accountable any responsible individuals,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-HI.
Schatz said the allegations that the IRS targeted groups based on their political views are “extremely troubling” and “must stop.”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI, said she was shocked and disappointed by the IRS targeting of certain groups, which “exposes a problem that lies not just with a few bad apples, but rather a systemic problem with a culture that condoned this type of illegal targeting.”
“The IRS and all government agencies have a duty and obligation to apply our laws equally, regardless of political, ethnic, religious affiliation or whether they have exercised their First Amendment rights to criticize the government,” Gabbard said. “Actions by any agency that unfairly target a certain group of people violates the very ideals that our country was founded upon, and the freedoms for which many heroes have fought and given their lives to defend. The Administration has taken first steps to remove those responsible, but more must be done. Those who abuse their power must face serious consequences. I will continue to work with my colleagues to investigate this issue, and take action to ensure that this never happens again.”
Wagoner said he appreciated the strong statements by both Schatz and Gabbard but wants to see them follow through.
The Tea Party Maui had to call in professional legal help before receiving IRS approval last summer. But in the process, the group found out that other tea party and conservative groups across the country had a similar experience.
On May 10, Lois Lerner, head of the IRS unit overseeing tax-exempt groups, admitted tea party groups were wrongfully targeted.
Just days later, The American Center for Law and Justice filed its lawsuit on behalf of 25 conservative groups including the Tea Party Maui and The Honolulu Tea Party. The 29-page lawsuit, the first of its kind in America, names the U.S. attorney general, Treasury secretary and the IRS and its top officials as defendants.
Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com