CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- The current national debate over Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents allegedly targeting conservative groups for extra tax scrutiny is bringing back memories for one small Cedar Rapids nonprofit group.
In 2009, the Coalition for Life of Iowa was involved in a battle with the IRS while seeking 501(c)(3) tax exempt status for the group's activities and fund raising. Susan Martinek, president of the group, said an IRS agent in Cincinnati, Ohio phoned several times to ask if the right to life organization was involved in active picketing at a local Planned Parenthood office. Martinek said the IRS wanted all members of her board to pledge they would not picket or protest before approving the tax exempt status for the group.
"It seemed like it was really unfair and I did ask them at one point to cite where that was in the application form. They never responded to that," Martinek said.
Martinek said her group's mission is to educate people about pro-life issues and the group organizes occasional seminars with outside speakers. Individual members have picketed and carried pro-life signs on occasion, but she said that was not the main mission of her nonprofit group. The Thomas More Society of Chicago heard about the Cedar Rapids organization's IRS issues and took up their cause with a lawyer for the group protesting the IRS actions. The IRS quickly reversed course after that national organization's involvement and issued the tax exempt certificate to Coalition for Life of Iowa in July of 2009.
"We didn't have much money and the IRS was so big, you know, who wants to fight the IRS. But the Thomas More Society, that's what they do," Martinek said.
Martinek said her members had largely forgotten their IRS battle until the controversy erupted this week over IRS actions involving Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations.
Martinek said some news outlets heard of her battles in 2009 and began calling for comments about the IRS actions now. And as she thought about it more, she now believes her group's battle wasn't an isolated event, but part of a pattern of treatment.
"In light of everything that's come to light now, perhaps this is a pattern with the IRS. This is not something new, they've been doing it all along and if you don't have help, you might just give in to it," she said
Martinek considered the IRS actions in 2009 as discrimination and believed her right to life group was specifically targeted. A call to an IRS press official in Washington did not bring any comment about the Cedar Rapids group's claims.