Former local GOP chair testifies before Congress about IRS experience
By Carole Robinson, Senior Writer
When former Williamson County Republican Party chair, Kevin Kookogey, filed an application for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service in January 2011, he expected the process to take two to three months. Two and half years later, his group, the Linchpins of Liberty, has no tax exemption.
Kookogey, an entertainment attorney, testified before the congressional committee responsible for the nation’s tax laws June 4 that the group he founded underwent excessive scrutiny by the IRS during the application process. The Linchpins of Liberty, he said, provides a mentoring program for high school and college students.
Tuesday morning, for three and half hours, Kookogey and five other organizations who say they were targeted by the IRS, had five minutes to state their cases and then each member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, chaired by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich), were given five minutes to ask questions or make statements.
“I felt like I got almost enough time to say what I needed to say,” Kookogey said. “The Republicans on the committee asked relevant questions; the Democrats took their time to pontificate, which was a distraction.”
Kookogey said much of the testimony he heard was impressive, but when [John Eastman] chairman of the National Organization for Marriage told his story, that was perhaps the most memorable.
Eastman showed evidence that the IRS circulated the organization’s tax returns, disclosing its donors, which, according to Kookogey, is a felony.
“That was pretty compelling,” Kookogey said. “I was appalled at the language [by some] trying to make an argument the Tea Party was hiding its true purposes, its donor bases and that they attacked the president.”
Kookogey applied for 501(c)(3) status for Linchpins of Liberty, a nonprofit he describes as an American leadership development enterprise “to challenge the minds of the next generation” and teach them conservative values based on classics literature.
The idea for Linchpins came from a home-school program Kookogey developed for his own children as part of their seventh-grade curriculum.
“Their seventh-grade friends were invited to join and I started mentoring,” he said.
Kookogey said, when the one-on-one mentoring program grew to include high school and college students, he applied for nonprofit status, which would allow him to fund raise and apply for grants to finance the program. He said he received a $30,000 grant from a foundation, which he declined to name to protect them from the IRS.
According to Kookogey, the IRS questions started out as superficial however, he became alarmed when, 17-months later, in May 2012, instead of a letter granting the exemption status, “The letter I got was frightening,” Kookogey said. “I suspected right away I was a target.”
He said the letter wanted Facebook posts, names of donors, copies of his speeches and training manuals, names of people who attended his events, and other information that he believed to be excessive.
“I tried to reach the IRS to get clarity, but they said my file had been shifted to another desk,” he said.
On Dec. 30, 2012, after months of trying to make contact, the IRS contacted Kookogey only to say they “have been waiting on guidance from superiors on what to do with your case,” he said.
“I knew immediately it was a lie. That was chilling. I knew it was a coordinated effort,” he said.
By then the process had taken so long, Kookogey said he lost the grant.
In July 2012, “I got the letter I most feared,” he said. “It was way more invasive.”
This time, he said, the IRS wanted the identity of students he had taught and was teaching.
“Can you imagine if I turned over their names?” he said.
Kookogey’s next step was to get legal help. He contacted the American Center for Law and Justice, a public interest law firm founded with the mandate “to protect religious and constitutional freedoms,” according to its website.” They took on the case. That was when he learned he was not alone – there were more than 400 other organizations waging similar complaints.
May 13, 2013, two weeks after IRS Commissioner Steve Miller claimed the intrusive practices had stopped, Kookogey received another letter dated May 6, asking for information about the locations where he is mentoring. On May 31, Jay Sekulaw, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ, filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of 35 Tea Party and conservative organizations, including Linchpins of Liberty. An ultimatum was issued to the IRS for approval of the tax-exempt status of 10 ACLJ clients, including Linchpins of Liberty, with a noon May 17 deadline, to which the IRS has yet to respond.
The suit is against the U.S. attorney general, the treasury secretary and IRS, including top IRS officials. ACLJ is also suing Lois Lerner, director of tax-exempt organizations, Steve Miller and “unnamed IRS defendants.”
Among the allegations, the lawsuit contends the Obama administration overstepped its authority and violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act, and IRS rules and regulations. The suit cites six counts of delaying, which effectively denied approval of Plaintiffs’ applications using conduct including but “not limited to excessive scrutiny,” of applications.
“The IRS frightens everyone,” Kookogey said. “If we do something wrong, we are penalized. Imagine if they used race for qualifications [for exemptions].”
Posted on: 6/5/2013