FOX19 Investigates: IRS emails reveal internal thinking about Tea Party groups

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Democrats on Capitol Hill released IRS e-mails Wednesday that show what was going through the minds of agency officials and tax law specialists trying to determine whether Tea Party organizations and other groups qualified for tax-exempt status. Among the groups under the IRS microscope was the Cincinnati 9/12 Project, which did not respond to FOX19's request for comment.

To qualify for tax exempt status, a group must demonstrate that most of its activities are "educational" and not "political." About a year before the 2012 presidential election, the director of exempt organizations at the IRS wrote an e-mail to several colleagues.

"In meeting with Cindy in Cincy last week and looking at some of the cases, it is clear to me that we cast the net too wide and have held up cases that have nothing to do with lobbying or campaign intervention (e.g., org distributing educational material on the national debt)," wrote Holly Paz on September 21, 2011.

But two weeks later, a different view from a tax law specialist at the IRS who'd also reviewed some of the applications for tax exempt status.

"After talking with Justin and reviewing some of the cases I've looked at (11), we agreed that only one of the cases would be favorable," Hilary Goehausen wrote in an e-mail. "The other cases, while not engaging in political campaign intervention/activities, may need further development because it is questionable whether they're even engaging in social welfare activities. Many are simply propaganda."

Democrats pointed-out today that Goehausen later told Congressional investigators that she's a Republican.

"Do you have a party affiliation when you're voting, registration?" she was asked.

"Yes," Goehausen answered.

"What is your party affiliation?"

"Republican Party," she said.

But that gives little comfort to one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement in Ohio. Reached by phone this afternoon, Portage County Tea Party leader Tom  Zawistowski said, "Well, that's interesting because the Tea Party relationship with the Republican Party has been kind of a love/hate type relationship. And so I don't know if you can get a clear handle on whether that works for us or against us."

He still believes the questions the IRS asked groups like his were inappropriate. Some Tea Party leaders say the IRS wanted to know what books they've read, whom they support politically, and what was discussed at their gatherings.

However, Democrats counter that some liberal groups faced this kind of scrutiny from the IRS and deny there was a conspiracy at the agency to keep conservative groups from participating in the 2012 election.

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