As Congress and the Justice Department step into the scandal involving the IRS and conservative and “Tea Party” groups, Ohio Tea Party members are paying close attention. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler says they’re working on what to do next.
Tom Zawistowski is a busy man these days.
ZAWISTOWSKI: “Excuse me one second. Wow. I don’t know what just happened, but whatever it is, it was pretty dramatic.”
The Portage County man spent Friday in the halls of the U.S. Capitol -- just weeks after leading cheering supporters in his failed attempt to become chair of the Ohio Republican Party.
Zawistowski and other Tea Party leaders were in Washington for a Congressional hearing on the controversy involving the IRS and its targeting of his and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny as they applied for tax-exempt status. Zawistowski ducked out of the hearing to talk about this sudden trip to D.C.
ZAWISTOWSKI: “We’ve been doing a lot of homework, a lot of background work. And now we’re just watching the hearings, like everybody is on TV.”
The background work may turn out to be important in the lawsuit Zawistowski and other Tea Party members plan to file against the IRS. Maurice Thompson of the Tea Party-backed 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is preparing that suit for the Ohio Liberty Coalition, which represents 60 to 80 individual Tea Party groups.
THOMPSON: “We’re looking to file a federal lawsuit that would recover damages for all the Ohio groups that have been aggrieved -- and there are many -- and also to get a declaration and injunctive relief, meaning that this will never happen again, to get that precedent firmed up on the books.”
Steven Miller, the ousted head of the IRS, said in that Congressional hearing that singling out Tea Party and other groups -- in Miller’s words -- “was a mistake and not an act of partisanship.”
But Thompson isn’t buying that.
THOMPSON: “What we don’t mean to do is say that Republicans are angels and that Democrats are demons in this case. The fact of the matter is that anybody who is drunk with political power is a demon who will violate the rights of those they seek to oppress and those who disagree with them, and that’s why we have a Constitution is to protect the minority from the majority that is in power.”
Meanwhile in Washington, Zawistowski says he’s angry at what’s being said in the Congressional hearing -- specifically, about discussions on how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
ZAWISTOWSKI: “It happened with JFK, it happened with LBJ, it happened with Dick Nixon, it happened with Bill Clinton, now it's happening with Barack Obama. To sit there and insult us and say that you can just pass a memo out and this will never happen again -- it’s just simply insulting.”
KASLER: “Some folks will say it happened under Republican presidents as well.”
ZAWISTOWSKI: “Absolutely. And this is our whole problem. The problem is the IRS itself is a political tool.”
Thompson says it will take a while to put the suit together because he’s still collecting information about which groups were affected and how, since some groups are just now sharing the problems they were having with the IRS.