(Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
The National Organization for Marriage announced Thursday a lawsuit in federal court against the Internal Revenue Service for illegally releasing confidential tax documents to the Human Rights Campaign.
In March 2012, HRC published the confidential information on its website, which included the names of donors, who were subsequently harassed. The information was also republished by The Huffington Post.
Releasing confidential tax information without permission is a felony under federal law. But currently, no one is being prosecuted for the alleged crime, and the Justice Department will not confirm whether or not there is an ongoing investigation into the alleged crime.
The information was tax documents from 2008. In 2008, there was a debate over Proposition 8 in California, which dealt with the definition of marriage. NOM and HRC were on opposite sides of that debate. NOM supports maintaining the traditional definition of marriage while HRC supports redefining marriage to include same-sex couples.
"We have irrefutable proof that NOM's confidential tax return was released by the IRS and went to the number one opponent of marriage, the Human Rights Campaign whose president was a national co-chair of President Obama's re-election campaign. The HRC promptly published it and released it to the media," said Brian Brown, NOM's president. "This is a federal crime. Worse, the confidential information contained in the illegally leaked documents included the identity of dozens of our major donors and the HRC used this confidential donor information to harass our donors. This is a chilling set of circumstances that should ring alarm bells across the nation."
NOM was able to confirm that the documents published by HRC came from the IRS by discovering a stamp on the documents that could only come from the IRS.
The evidence in the lawsuit was also presented to Congress in a committee hearing in June. Since that time, the IRS has continued to deny requests to release information related to the crime. The IRS's only response has been that the release of the information was "inadvertent."
Federal law allows NOM to bring a civil suit against the U.S. government for statutory and punitive damages.
The main goal of the lawsuit, though, is to bring to light the crime and hold those responsible accountable, given that federal authorities appear unwilling to bring the perpetrators to justice.
NOM leaders do not know who at the IRS gave the confidential information to the HRC, but they do note some potential connections.
Joe Solmonese was president of HRC at the time the information was published. The day after the information was published, he stepped down from that position to become national co-chairman of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.
The documents were released in March of 2012 around the same time it became clear that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was going to face Obama in the November election as the Republican presidential nominee. Romney was also among those identified in the documents as a donor to NOM in 2008.
NOM suspects that the publication of the documents was part of an effort to bolster Obama's re-election campaign. Solmonese specifically mentioned Romney when the documents were published.
"Not only has Romney signed NOM's radical marriage pledge, now we know he's one of the donors that NOM has been so desperate to keep secret all these years," he said. Solmonese also accused Romney funding "a hate-filled campaign designed to drive a wedge between Americans."
Earlier this year, it was also discovered that in 2012 the IRS was targeting conservative, evangelical and pro-life groups for additional scrutiny and harassment.
In a Thursday conference call with reporters, NOM also noted that Steve Grodnitzky, a high ranking official within a unit of the IRS that oversees tax exempt organizations like NOM, was seen in photos from Dec., 2011, at an HRC holiday party that was also attended by Solmonese. Solmonese received an award for his service to HRC at the party.
In June, Bloomberg News reported that Grodnitzky was involved in editing the questions that the IRS used to harass Tea Party groups.
Knowingly publishing information that was illegally obtained is also a felony. NOM, though, is not currently suing HRC or The Huffington Post for publishing the information. HRC removed it posting of the documents from its website shortly after the accusations that the documents were illegally obtained came to light. The Huffington Post has not removed the allegedly illegally obtained information from its website.