PLATTSBURGH — The Upstate New York Tea Party was not a target of the Internal Revenue Service but could have been, its leader says.
“We were warned that they will go after you,” Mark L. Barie said.
The Northern Tier businessman, who founded UNYTEA, said it never attained nonprofit status, as many Tea Party chapters across the country did.
The IRS recently revealed that it did indeed improperly target conservative nonprofit 501(c)(4) groups, such as Tea Party organizations, for extra audits and delays, stirring a nationwide controversy.
Barie, who stepped down from running UNYTEA last year due to health reasons, said they were warned by an attorney not to apply for tax-exempt status or New York State Board of Elections certification, as both could lead to problems.
“He told us they would go after us tooth and nail, and we would need a full-time lawyer and accountant,” he said.
“I thought he was being a little extreme, but I guess not.”
ANGERED AT IRS
UNYTEA obtained status as a federal political action committee from the Federal Elections Commission in Washington, D.C., instead. With that designation, the outfit is not subject to taxation, but donations to the organization are not tax-deductible.
“That was a bit of a hindrance because we could have had some bigger donations from some people, but we survived,” Barie said.
UNYTEA grew to more than 1,000 members, raising money by passing a hat at events they hosted.
Barie said he is angered by the IRS’s action but not surprised.
“Democrats got really nervous when Scott Brown won in Massachusetts,” he said, referencing the Republican who won the U.S. Senate race in 2010.
“And they have been telling the IRS for years to go after the Tea Party because the Tea Party was seen as a big help in Brown winning.
“Maybe somebody at the IRS finally took them seriously.”
‘MORE INFO NEEDED’
North Country Congressman Bill Owens said more information on the IRS issue is needed.
“I don’t think we have enough information yet to figure out who was targeted,” he told the Press-Republican on Tuesday.
Initially, Owens said if certain groups were targeted it was unacceptable.
“Targeting groups simply because of their political leanings is completely unacceptable, and if in fact that is what happened, then the IRS should be taken to task,” he said in a statement he released on May 14.
Owens, who was an attorney in Plattsburgh for more than 30 years before being elected to Congress, said it is normal for all tax-exempt entities to face questions from the IRS.
“If you get three pages of questions from the IRS that is a normal course of business,” he said.
“So we need to see who was really targeted. If it was just conservative groups, that’s one thing, but if everybody was targeted then that is a different issue.”
Barie is also not happy about Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS Exempt Organizations division, pleading the fifth and not answering questions about the scandal.
“They are almost arrogant about it. If you or I try that, then see what happens,” he said.
Barie finds it interesting how the situation has unfolded.
“At the time Tea Parties started forming, people thought we were paranoid and the government was out to get us and thought we were nuts,” he said.
“But now look at what’s happening, and we don’t seem so nuts.”
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