A conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit whose application for tax exempt status was among several wrongfully given to ProPublica earlier this year is suing the IRS over the disclosure and demanding big bucks in damages.
The Denver-based Citizens Awareness Project filed the suit in federal court Thursday, asking the court to award it $1,000 for every time unauthorized persons saw its confidential returns, as well as other unspecified damages.
In addition to the IRS, the suit names the United States of America and Attorney General Eric Holder as defendants
“Defendants’ conduct has caused Plaintiff to incur actual damages in the form of harm to its reputation, harm to its fundraising ability, and direct costs for legal and public relations responses related to the release of this tax return information,” the suit reads.
Citizens Awareness Project filed its application for tax-exempt status in October 2012 and was among scores of conservative groups that the IRS subjected to intensive scrutiny. The application was finally approved after nine months, on July 25.
But long before it was approved, the group’s application was sent to ProPublica as part of a request for public documents by the news site. The IRS sent ProPublica reports and documents related to 31 groups, including nine for conservative groups whose applications were still pending, meaning they were supposed to remain confidential.
IRS attorneys called Citizens Awareness Project and told them their application “may have been illegally or improperly released,” the suit says.
Citizens Awareness Project chairman Charlie Smith told the Denver Post in May that he believes the IRS targeted his group because it had spent close to $1 million trying to defeat President Barack Obama during his reelection campaign.
“This is just all the more reason to believe that we were targeted by the IRS based on our political and policy beliefs,” Smith told the paper. “It’s no coincidence that we were singled-out for interrogation after public reports that we opposed the President’s policies.”
The lawsuit seeks damages of $1,000 for “for each unauthorized inspection or disclosure of its tax return information,” actual damages for legal and public relations costs, punitive damages, lawyers fees and “other relief as the Court deems just.”
Lawyer John Zakem, who is representing Citizens Awareness Project, told the Colorado Watchdog website that the lawsuit also seeks information about who is ultimately responsible for the leak.
“We filed this suit to get some discovery, to hold these people accountable, to follow this as far up as it goes,” he said. “What you have here is a Gestapo-like agency discriminating against particular groups to subjugate a political point of view.”