~~~ By Steve Klein ~~

(Steve serves as Staff Attorney and Research Counsel for the Wyoming Liberty Group and is heard frequently on The Morning Zone on AM650 KGAB and kgab.com).

Even before the Internal Revenue Service scandal broke two weeks ago, WyLiberty resolutely opposed the federal government’s requirement that groups register and regularly file complex forms for the First Amendment right to engage in politics. Contra the IRS, this is far more than “just disclosure.”

In fact, this is a very important part of Free Speech’s lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission, and we’re proud to represent Free Speech. Along the way, it’s been both humorous and sad to see supporters of so-called disclosure fail to practice what they preach; illustrate how even experienced attorneys can fail to “disclose;” and report that disclosure is leading to even more chilling oppression of constitutional engagement.

But until the most recent IRS scandal, convincing many folks who love liberty about the constitutional problems of “disclosure” was difficult. We’ve all stood in long lines at the post office while two workers behind the counter do something besides help customers, dealt with someone at the DMV who practically relishes the fact that we didn’t bring along one required piece of paper to renew our drivers licenses (a relatively new phenomenon in Wyoming thanks to Real ID) and, of course, filled out our federal income tax filings and attendant schedules.

Sure, it’s aggravating, but that’s life and that’s government, right? Why should paperwork and bureaucracy be any different for forming a Tea Party group or any kind of advocacy group?

Well, here’s why:

This is but one of five pages of invasive questions sent to one organization represented by Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who has practiced on behalf of nonprofits and tax-exempt organizations for years.

In a must-read memorandum released a few days ago, Mitchell lays out the lengths to which the IRS took its Tea Party inquisition. The memo includes this letter as well as letters sent to three other organizations (names and other information redacted), requiring them to not only answer dozens of questions “under penalties of perjury,” but to respond within roughly three weeks. Quite a bold requirement, considering these organizations (and many others across the country) waited more than a year without approval before the IRS sent these questions along. As Mitchell notes, even after answering these questions, “[o]nly one of the referenced organizations has received its letter of exempt status. All the others are still pending.”

Aside from the constitutional harms caused by the IRS’s delays and intrusive questioning, the applicants’ answers to the IRS’s questions become public once the organization is approved for tax-exempt status. The details are so minute, these forms are practically an ammo drop for groups that oppose the Tea Party.

For example, when the IRS asks groups to “provide details regarding all training you have provided or will provide,” (emphasis added) it effectively prohibits an organization from taking a different path later on. If, at the time of filing, a group aimed to train poll watchers, but then decided it would be better to focus on training grassroots lobbyists, a so-called “watchdog” could report the group’s leaders to the IRS for “perjury.” Of course, the group could always amend its (c)(4) filing, but you can imagine how enticing that is after waiting so long for initial approval.

If political “disclosure” cannot be eliminated entirely, at the very least it must be significantly rolled back.

The IRS went to such extremes and engaged in such blatant discrimination that folks are finally waking up to the stranglehold the federal government places on grassroots speech under the guise of “disclosure.” Considering how powerful the Tea Party’s voice was in spite of this censorship, one can only imagine what eliminating such onerous burdens will do for the liberty movement.

Then, just maybe, more citizens will realize there are reams of government red tape in other areas of our lives we can also cut through and throw away.