Understanding what the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative non-profit organizations meant to the victims becomes much easier once you hear the story of Catherine Engelbrecht of Richmond, Texas.

Once you understand what Engelbrecht was subjected to you’ll understand that the IRS attacks could not simply be the work of overzealous or confused low-level staffers in Cincinnati. And if this story doesn’t disturb you, you don’t truly understand the risk of a government willing to intimidate its citizens.

Engelbrecht and her husband run a small manufacturing business. Like many small business owners Engelbrecht became keenly interested in public policy when she saw the effect policy had on their family business.

Catherine Engelbrecht

Engelbrecht felt compelled to become involved and did so by forming two groups, called True the Vote and King Street Patriots. The former seeks to ensure the integrity of elections by, among other things, working to clear voting rolls of people who have died.

In July 2010, Engelbrecht sought tax-exempt status from the IRS triggering a landslide of attacks that, as Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan put it, “The U.S. government came down on her with full force.”

In December of that year, the FBI came to her home to ask about a person who had attended a King Street Patriots function. The following month, in January 2011, the FBI asked more questions and the IRS audited her business tax returns. The FBI came knocking again in May 2011, about King Street Patriots.

One month later, Engelbrecht’s personal tax returns were audited and the FBI visited again. Questions about True the Vote from the IRS started in October 2011, with another FBI inquiry in November and again in December. In February 2012, the IRS came with another round of questions about True the Vote, and questions about King Street Patriots.

While Engelbrecht’s business has a license to make firearms it has never done so; nonetheless in February 2012, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) did an unscheduled audit of the business. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration did the same in July 2012.

More IRS questions about True the Vote followed in November 2012, and again in March of this year and one month later ATF conducted a second audit.

Prior to her filing for tax-exempt status Engelbrecht and her business have never once had an inquiry nor audit from the feds; in fact they had never been any form of communication between her and the federal government. “These people, they are just regular Americans,” her attorney Cleta Mitchell, told Noonan. “They try to get dead people off voter rolls; you would think that they are serial killers.”

Engelbrecht isn’t taking this attack on her civil rights sitting down. She has filed a lawsuit against the IRS; but in the meantime she still hasn’t received the tax-exempt status she sought three years ago.

Engelbrecht isn’t alone; not by a long-shot. There are many, many more stories like this. Just this past week the Wall Street Journal wrote about a Virginia-based organization that trains young conservative activists. Last year it had to produce 23,000 pages of documents for the IRS and answer personal questions about its interns. In 2010, the tax attorney for a pro-Israel group in Pennsylvania inquired as to why a request for 501(c)(3) status was moving so slowly. The IRS auditor explained that many applications related to Israel “had to be sent to ‘a special unit in D.C. to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the administration’s public policies,'” the Journal reported.

In the weeks and months to come more of these stories will come to light and the true scope of the political involvement will be revealed and any chance that such a broad abuse of government power wasn’t directed from Washington will become less and less likely.


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