On May 27, Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo at the New York Times filed a ridiculously incoherent, ignorant and biased report on Tea Party groups' attempts to have their organizations approved for tax-exempt status. The story's window title: "Non-Profit Applcants Chafing at IRS Tested Political Limits." The actual print edition title (Page A1, of course): "Groups Targeted by I.R.S. Tested Rules on Politics." The headlines give the impression that Tea Party groups deliberately tried to test the boundaries of legality.
The pair's content also betrayed more than a little ignorance of the rules governing campaign finance, electioneering, and literature distribution. Among those interviewed for the story was Tom Zawistowski, Portage County TEA Party Executive Director. Zawistowski took great exception to their writeup in an email he distributed on Saturday (bolds are mine; additional paragraph breaks added by me):
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Saturday, June 1, 2013
Contact: Tom Zawistowski
ZAWISTOWSKI RESPONDS TO NEW YORK TIMES IRS STORY
Akron - Portage County TEA Party Executive Director, and recent past-president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, Tom Zawistowski, responded today to quotes attributed to him in a May 26, 2013 New York Times story about the IRS Targeting of TEA Party Groups.
Zawistowski said "The headline of the Times piece suggesting that the intention of TEA Party groups was to "test rules on politics" is laughable. We were not "testing" any rules of politics, we were told the rules and we followed them to the "T". We didn't challenge them or try to change them.
What we challenged were the politically motivated questions being asked of our organizations by the IRS. Which we recognized as wrong and which the IRS itself has since agreed were wrong. Since both parties now agree that the questions were inappropriate, it appears to me to be ludicrous for outside groups like the New York Times to now attempt to make a case for those questions being appropriate behavior by the IRS."
Zawistowski concluded by saying "When I spoke with one of the authors of the article, Mr. Luo, it was clear that they had already decided that the story would support a key Democratic talking point, that the line between what was political activity was so unclear that it was appropriate for the IRS to ask the questions that they asked.
However, I immediately made it clear to Mr. Luo that his premise was simply not true when talking about TEA Party groups. At one point in our conversation, I said to him, the way you can tell which groups are purely political and which ones are not is to see who goes away after election day. None of the TEA Party groups setup for an election and go away when it is over. We have been working in our communities continuously since 2009 are still all here in 2013.
There are no elected offices on the ballot this fall, except for school board and township trustee. We are working on our fair tent, and planning a Liberty Camp for children in our County this summer, and offering to help a black pastor in our community put a new roof on his church. That is what 501(c)4 "social welfare" organizations do and there has never been any doubt that is what TEA Party groups do.
When I explained that to Mr. Lou, he said he agreed that was a very good point, but he then failed to include it in his article."
Of course he didn't. It didn't fit the template.
Zawistowski and other Tea Party directors and officials will be testifying in Washington in the coming days and probaby weeks. Suffice it to say that Zawistowski believes, based on advice from counsel and mentors, that the actions the Times pair either implied or asserted "tested the limits" of what his and others' organizations can legally do were clearly acceptable.
I'm sure we'll have to go to actual hearing testimony or to others in New Media who read it to get a handle on what they really say, as the press seems determined to either ignore or distort what they will say.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.