Did the IRS Scandal Help Revive the Tea Party Movement?

Women walk out of an Internal Revenue Service office in New York, April 18, 2011.
Women walk out of an Internal Revenue Service office in New York, April 18, 2011. | (Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

Correction Appended

Tea Party groups may be experiencing a revival in popularity after news broke out that the Internal Revenue Service allegedly targeted them for audits and delayed their applications for 501(c)(3) status.

"Freedomworks has a lot of activists that are reaching out to our office to help them figure out ways to get involved," Jackie Bodnar, Freedomworks' communications director, told The Christian Post. "The rise of support stems from the fact that this is a civil rights issue."

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Bodnar tied the alleged targeting to the basic First Amendment right to assemble freely and criticize the federal government. Because the IRS violated this right, she explained, "it stretches beyond a political issue."

"You're watching Americans get treated differently under the law," she said. "The IRS used different standards and criteria for certain Americans over other ones."

She reports activists reaching out to Freedomworks through its website,, and new stories from different states and local groups coming in every day. "They're not these big national organizations. These are soccer moms, people working two other jobs who do political activism in their spare time," said Bodnar.

Freedomworks is currently vetting the stories and connecting activists to briefings on Capitol Hill, she said. "I think activists are more motivated to stay engaged in their communities than ever before because of this story," she said, referring to the IRS scandal.

"This is what big government looks like – it leads to civil rights abuses," Bodnar concluded, echoing Tea Party sentiment.

A Friday Rasmussen Reports poll shows a marked increase in Americans' view of the movement as a whole (44 percent, up 14 points from January). While the number who view the Tea Party unfavorably matches the number who appreciate it (44 percent), that number has decreased by 5 points from earlier this year.

Sal Russo, chief strategist at the Tea Party Express, told a similar story. "We've seen people respond," he told CP. "Our contributions are up, we can tell from the emails we get that people feel vindicated that the Left was out to destroy them because they were right."

Like Bodnar, he tied the scandal to the size of the federal government. "This proves that the excesses of the federal government are a problem – when you have a large central government you get abuse," he said.

"Our Founding Fathers recognized this and so they created a limited government with checks and balances and the three independent branches of government." He explained their purpose as "to keep the government from being too powerful."

In his words, "That's what the Tea Party movement is about."

When asked about the Tea Party's apparent waning in the 2012 election, Russo answered confidently, with a short history of the movement.

After 2009 when Rick Santelli's speech started the movement, "it was largely a protest movement, like what Occupy was." When Scott Brown won the Massachusetts election for U.S. Senate, however, "people thought if we can win in Massachusetts we can win in my state and in my community," and from that point the Tea Party became a political movement.

"Accounts of the Tea Party's demise are in error because so many protestors have become involved in the political process," he explained. Besides Texas Senator Ted Cruz, "there were not strong Tea Party identified candidates" last year. In 2014, "you've got to have candidates who will say the government is too big."

Citing Cruz's commencement speech at Hillsdale College, Russo explained the Tea Party idea. "It isn't because we're all book-keepers or we're trying to impose a Protestant ethic. It's because big government prevents middle class people from becoming better off economically."

"No nation in history has ever provided the economic opportunity and growth that the American experiment has done," he argued.

The Tea Party Express has lately travelled to Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, and South Dakota to engage in contested U.S. Senate seats for the 2014 election. These trips have given Russo hope. "These candidates are much more willing to articulate a strong economic message," he said.

Russo also tied the Tea Party to the Christian church. The American experiment "was always based on a notion that you want the government small and the civil society to be big," he explained. "A social fabric that was primarily church oriented" made early America unique.

The Tea Party goal "to privately help our fellow man very much derived from our Christian heritage," he explained.

Correction: May 29, 2013:

An article on May 29, 2013, about the Tea Party movement's possible revival after the IRS targeting scandal incorrectly reported that Jackie Bodnar, Freedomworks' communications director, said the IRS targeting Tea Party is a matter of the Fifth Amendment. Bodnar contacted CP to clarify that her group sees it as a matter of the First Amendment, the right to assemble freely and to be able to criticize the federal government.

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