MANKATO — Andy Johnson has been waiting for several years to ask the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status for his group, Southern Minnesota Tea Party. His plan was to wait for the Rochester group to get that status, then copy their paperwork to save time.
Now, Johnson thinks he knows why the Rochester group was held up for about two years. The treasury department's inspector general found that the IRS had, since early 2010, targeted tea party and other groups with extra scrutiny, unnecessary questions and long delays.
Johnson and a dozen others attended a hastily organized protest Tuesday outside the IRS office in Mankato, near the city's eastern edge. They didn't mean to target the Mankato office; the group was outraged that the federal government would target conservative organizations.
“This is America,” Johnson said.
“You have to use that in the past tense,” said Don Sorensen of Albert Lea.
Johnson disagreed: “If you give up hope, you're finished.”
Groups like Johnson's can file for tax-exempt status as long as “political campaign intervention” is not their “primary activity,” according to the inspector's report. Johnson said his group is mainly about education and regularly reaches out to all political parties.
“You will never find me endorsing a candidate,” he said.
While Johnson has not applied for tax-exempt status, he said the Rochester group applied in 2010 but didn't get approved. Instead, tea party groups like this one got a letter asking unnecessary and inappropriate questions, such as what sort of prayers they say, Johnson said.
“That is patently wrong and is offensive,” he said. “The rules should be applied fairly.”
He said the national tea party group called for the nationwide demonstrations on Monday, so there wasn't much time to organize Tuesday's event.
One question of the moment is how much the Obama administration knew about the inappropriate targeting and when they knew it.
St. Peter resident Jerry Lucas said he's skeptical that the president didn't know about the IRS' behavior.
“I don't think he's living up to his word (on transparency),” he said.
He's hoping the public starts paying more attention to this issue.
That's Sorensen's prediction.
“I think it's going to blow up,” he said.