by Paul Bowers
In July 2010, the Laurens County Tea Party filed for tax-exempt status as a social welfare organization. Nearly three years later, they still haven't been approved, and president Dianne Belsom says her organization is just one of the many Tea Party organizations that have been singled out by the Internal Revenue Service for undue scrutiny.
Belsom, a homeschool mom who lives in Laurens, S.C., says that keeping up with the IRS's demands has been like "a full-time unpaid job" at times. Belsom says she hadn't heard anything back a year after applying for the nonprofit status, so she called the IRS and got someone on the phone. "He said, 'Well, your case is still pending,' so I said, 'I guess that means I don't need to do anything, right?' He said, 'Oh no, no, you still need to file tax returns.' So we've been doing that," Belsom says.
After more than a year of continued silence from the IRS, Belsom says she received a letter from the IRS in September 2012 requesting a bevy of documents, including:
• Articles of incorporation, which Belsom says she had already sent with the original application.
• Information on all of the Laurens County Tea Party's committees, including how much of the organization's time and resources was devoted to each committee's activities.
• Detailed information about all of the group's meetings, rallies, and events, including names of speakers, agendas, and whether guest speakers made remarks about upcoming elections.
• From any candidate forums and candidate interview videos, copies of all invitations to candidates, copies of any introductory statements made by organization members, copies of all questions asked of the candidates, and explanations for any interviews that were conducted but not posted on the group's website.
• A list of expenses for 2010, 2011, and 2012.
Belsom says she sent the information in via FedEx and fax, even though she says she was aware at the time that the IRS was targeting Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny. The situation seemed especially absurd to her because the Laurens County Tea Party is a small group, with only 60 paid members and 300 people on its e-mail list. She says all of the organization's money comes from private donations and $30-per-family membership dues — although there's no way for an outsider to confirm this, since the IRS still hasn't granted the organization nonprofit status and opened its financial records up to the public. "The amount of hours they've wasted looking into our group, it's just not even cost-effective," Belsom says. "But I guess when you're using the taxpayers' money — and that's endless — to harass people, you know, whatever.
In January this year, Belsom says she received yet another request for information, including a third demand for articles of incorporation, as well as copies of e-mails the group has sent out on topics including sharia law, Agenda 21, and current events. She says the IRS also asked for 50 pages of screen printouts from the group's Facebook group. Since the group is private, Belsom says she blacked out everyone's names on the printout to maintain their privacy.
Since sending in the documents in early February, Belsom says she has heard nothing back from the IRS, and she thinks the demands have been excessive. "It's definitely been onerous," Belsom says. "I really feel like this was their intention, to take time away, because all the time I had to spend doing that was time I couldn't devote to working on somebody's campaign who's running for office or other things that I do to fight the Obama agenda."
This week, Belsom says the conservative nonprofit organization FreedomWorks paid for her to fly to Washington D.C. to do media interviews about her ordeal. News outlets are reporting that Tea Partiers from around the country have descended on the capital this week. Belsom says she doesn't know what to make of theories that the additional IRS scrutiny came about as a result of an order from the White House. "Who knows?" Belsom says. "Maybe that will come out, but as of right now, it's unclear."