Ohio Conservative Targeted by IRS Tea Party Inquiry Says Threats to Individuals More Dangerous Than to Groups

May 16, 2013 - 12:13 PM

Tea Party St. Louis

A Tea Party rally in St. Louis, Mo. (AP Photo/Whitney Curtis)

(CNSNews.com) – Justin Binik-Thomas isn’t aware of other individuals targeted by the Internal Revenue Service for political reasons, but he considers the tax agency’s focus on one person’s politics an even bigger threat than targeting organizations for political reasons.

“Provide details regarding your relationship with Justin Binik-Thomas,” said one of the 35 questions an IRS questionnaire to the Liberty Township (Ohio) Tea Party on March 1, 2012, signed by Mitch Steele, an IRS Exempt Organizations Specialist.

Liberty Township, Binik-Thomas said, is about 30 miles from his hometown of Deer Park, Ohio.

“They not only reached out and politically targeted groups, they were targeting individuals,” Binik-Thomas told CNSNews.com. “That’s a big systemic problem. You bring in people, you change the game.”

Binik-Thomas was a founding member or the Cincinnati Tea Party, and runs a small media relations firm called Conservative Media Group LLC.

IRS officials apologized Friday that the tax exempt division based in Cincinnati targeted groups with the word “tea party,” “patriot” and other conservative-sounding terms or slogans.

On Tuesday, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reported that starting in 2010 the IRS “allowed inappropriate criteria to be developed and stay in place for 18 months.”

This resulted in substantial delay in processing certain applications for tax exempt status and unnecessary requests to be issued, the IG report found.

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that interim IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, whose term was set to expire at the end of next month, is resigning over the IRS problem.

The question to the Liberty Township Tea Party about Binik-Thomas is highlighted in a March 2012 letter from Landmark Legal Foundation President Mark Levin to the Treasury Inspector for Tax Administration. The Levin letter helped initiate the IG probe.

The Levin letter also listed other unusual questions, mostly from the Liberty Township inquiry such as, “Fully Describe your youth outreach program with the local school district”; “Provide a list of all issues that are important to your organization. Indicate your position regarding each issue”; “Has your organization engaged in any activities with the news media?”

Other questions in the letter from the IRS to the Liberty Township group included, “Provide details regarding all of your activity on Facebook and Twitter. If available, provide hard copies of all advertising you have conducted using social media outlets”; and “Provide information regarding the Butler County Teen Age Republicans and your relationship.”

Binik-Thomas said the IRS has never acknowledged or explained why his name was mentioned, and isn’t aware of any other individuals being asked about. Further, he is not aware of his name popping up on questionnaires other than Liberty Township.

“I’m not aware that I’m included on any other questionnaires,” he said. “I’m not involved with this group [the Liberty Township Tea Party]. I’m not sure how they tied me to it. I know some in the leadership, but I didn’t attend meetings.”

The IG report further said, “During interviews with Determinations Unit specialists and managers, we could not specifically determine who had been involved in creating the criteria.

EO [Exempt Organization] function officials later clarified that the expanded criteria were a compilation of various Determinations Unit specialists’ responses on how they were identifying Tea Party cases.” But the report called on the IRS to better document the reasons for choosing organizations for increased scrutiny.

Binik wonders how far this will go if both organizations and individuals can be targeted.

“If they choose to politically target tax returns will they also choose to politically target health care information now that they are the enforcement agency?"