(CNSNews.com) - Seven more top Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials, including former IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman, have been named as co-defendants in an amended complaint filed Friday in federal court by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) for allegedly using the IRS to illegally target more than 100 conservative groups.
(Editor's note: ACLJ is representing 41 of the 104 conservative and Tea Party groups who claim they've been harassed by the IRS.)
The amended complaint includes an additional claim for an alleged violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, as well as new evidence that reveals a politically motivated attack on conservative groups by the IRS as early as August, 2010 when President Barack Obama allegedly began directing comments at his political opponents.
“The intimidation campaign conducted by the IRS is much more politically-motivated and coordinated than previously thought.” ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow stated in a press release on Monday.
Besides Shulman, Chief Counsel William Wilkins and former and current officials in the Tax Exempt/Government Entities Division were added to the complaint, including former Commissioner Sarah Hall Ingram, and current Commissioner Joseph Grant.
Michael Seto, acting manager, Exempt Organization Technical Unit; and Nikole Flax and Judith E. Kindell, senior technical advisors in the IRS’ Exempt Organization Division, were also named as co-defendants.
According to the complaint, “President Obama joined what the IRS and Democrat members of Congress had already started: a relentless campaign to stifle the free speech of those protesting his and Democrats’ policies and the direction of the federal government.”
The original lawsuit was filed in May 2013. This is the second time the ACLJ has amended it, previously adding 16 organizations in June 2013, bringing to 41 the total number of conservative non-profit groups represented by the ACLJ against the IRS.
“The Obama Administration and the IRS objected to the conservative message of our clients, which resulted in the unlawful and unconstitutional scheme to keep our clients on the sidelines – out of the political debate. This filing strengthens our case and underscores our commitment to holding those responsible for this scheme accountable.” Sekulow said.
ACLJ Senior Counsel David French told CNSNews.com that the IRS has even been asking about the activities of family members of his non-profit plaintiffs.
“The IRS asked for identities not just of the directors and officers of these organizations, but activities even of their family members, trying to find out if they had ‘indirect communication with people who hold elected office.’
“We also have the emails from Lois Lerner indicating that she sought the urgency with which they attached to the Tea Party issue, even forwarding around internally articles about the Tea Party’s threat to the Democratic majority in the Senate, so there’s abundant circumstantial evidence and abundant direct evidence that there were political concerns [that] were foremost in the IRS [officials'] minds at this point.”
Lerner, who was placed on administrative leave in May after the IRS scandal broke, resigned last month.
The suit seeks injunctive relief from “IRS abuse or retaliation.” against conservative groups and their officers and directors. It also seeks “compensatory and punitive monetary damages to be determined at trial at a later date.”
The objective is to “protect them from any retaliatory audits or other kinds of IRS action where they can pursue and target individuals who are obviously causing the IRS a great deal of heartburn right now, so this is a common sense measure that is designed to prevent the IRS from doing what it has been doing around the country, which is target its political opponents.” French explained.
There have been no threats or backlash from the IRS since the suit was filed, according to French, who added “that would be foolish in the extreme for the IRS to make some sort of threat against them while the lawsuit is pending.”
French told CNSNews.com that he was audited himself in 2011 after adopting a child as part of another IRS scandal. In 2011, about 70 percent of nearly 35,000 adoptive families were subjected to at least a partial audit, compared to the less than one percent of all taxpayer returns that are audited annually.
In 2004, the IRS audited the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) after members made comments criticizing President George W. Bush during the group’s convention in Philadelphia that year. After a two-year legal battle, the case against the NAACP was dropped, but critics are pointing to it as evidence that the IRS has not only targeted conservative and Tea Party groups, but liberal groups as well.
However, French refutes any claim that the IRS’ recent behavior is comparable to anything experienced during the Bush administration.
“The numbers just simply don’t back up any allegation there was any sort of equivalence here. In fact, the IRS has even admitted that it used particular conservative words like 'Tea Party,' like '9/12' groups, like 'patriot groups' - all of which are directly related to the conservative side of the argument - to target conservative (c)4s.
“This was an investigation targeting more than 100 conservative groups. In other words, all of them that applied [for tax-exempt status] were targeted. Every one of them. And then, if you compare the experience of liberal groups, 501(c)4s who applied, with the experience of conservative groups, not only did the liberal groups get approved quicker, they also faced fewer follow-up questions,” he told CNSNews.com.
“In fact, the majority of liberal groups who applied faced no problems at all. Where all, every last one of the identified conservative groups faced additional scrutiny and many are still waiting, even years later, for any approval.”