A South Dakota group with its origins in the Tea Party movement recently received a settlement from the federal government over claims that the IRS unfairly scrutinized the application process to obtain non-profit status.

Upon forming in 2010, Rapid City-based South Dakota Citizens for Liberty was trying to apply for non-profit status as a group promoting social welfare (501(c)(4)). President Mike Mueller says his group would rather put power in the hands of individuals rather than bureaucrats.

"We believe in limited government, follow the Constitution plus promote those freedoms and liberties that we should have as United States citizens. We're a fairly conservative group, but we are not affiliated with a political party. We don't believe that government can solve all of our problems. Private individuals can do those things without government interventions."

During the application process, Mueller feels the vetting process was more thorough than necessary for an organization geared toward promoting limited government. It took 21 months for the application to gain approval. Mueller says many similar groups had the same experience.

"(The following year) we were approached by a group that was bringing a class action lawsuit against the IRS who had targeted conservative groups right ahead of the 2012 Presidential election. There were ten of us that were named plaintiffs and 428 conservative groups all together who were listed as targeted by the IRS."

The class action was filed in August 2013 and five years of legal wrangling later South Dakota Citizens for Liberty received $24,000 in the settlement. Mueller says their legal fees were covered by the group Citizens for Self-Governance. In court, it was proven that conservative groups were treated differently than others with different political views. Beyond the monetary settlement, Mueller requests a public apology from those involved.

"When we filled out our application, answered all those questions, and had several conference calls, we felt obligated because it was the IRS. When you start finding out you've got a lot of company and some of the testimony that's in the court docket would relay that. They comb through things multiple times over and actually segregated conservative groups I think for a purpose."

As for the settlement proceeds, Mueller indicates that some will be placed in reserve, while portions could be used for expenses that lobbyists incur during the South Dakota Legislative session along with future outreach and promotional efforts.

Above all, Mueller feels that any group regardless of their political stance should not be subjected to a similar experience.

 

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