WASHINGTON — In March 2012, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading homosexual-rights group, posted the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) confidential 2008 tax returns, including the names of donors.
The disclosure of tax returns without permission is a felony, and NOM quickly cited evidence that allegedly pointed to an Internal Revenue Service official as the likely source of the confidential data.
But a year and a half later, after repeated inquiries elicited no satisfactory response from the IRS, NOM has filed a lawsuit demanding answers and damages.
“Our confidential tax returns were disclosed to the Human Rights Campaign, which posted our confidential list of donors (Schedule B of the tax return) on its website as part of its effort to harass and intimidate our donors into silence,” said John Eastman, NOM’s chairman and law professor at Chapman University School of Law, explaining the group’s decision to file the lawsuit on Oct. 3.
“Computer forensics discovered that the document had originated from within the IRS. Disclosure of a confidential tax return is a serious felony, yet no charges have been brought.”
Eastman, NOM’s co-counsel in the lawsuit, noted that federal law also allows for civil action by the “victimized” taxpayer.
“We are pursuing that remedy for monetary damages in order to discover who committed these felonies against us and then hopefully get them prosecuted as a deterrent to future abuse by IRS officials.”
The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in the Eastern District of Virginia, and NOM also will be represented by co-counsels Cleta Mitchell of the ActRight Legal Foundation and Jason Torchinsky of Holtzman, Vogel & Josefiak, PLLC.
NOM Stands Its Ground
The National Organization for Marriage has long been a target of the Human Rights Campaign, which has attacked NOM for opposing the advance of “marriage equality” and for resisting state public-disclosure laws that require reporting of certain classes of donors.
NOM has gone to court in a number of states to block such laws, arguing that previous harassment of donors has suppressed free speech and discouraged potential supporters from backing causes they have a right to support.
Eastman clarified that “HRC is seeking the donors to our nonprofit. Those names are confidential. Political committees do and NOM’s affiliated political committees do disclose, as required by law.”
During the 2011-2012 campaign season, which featured four state efforts to secure “marriage equality,” the HRC called on NOM, the nation’s leading organization opposing same-sex “marriage,” to make its list of donors available.
Then, in March 2012, NOM’s 2008 tax return, including a Schedule B document with donor names, was posted on the website of the Human Rights Campaign and republished by The Huffington Post. The HRC said a “whistleblower” had provided the confidential document.
The 2008 donor list was important for the close 2012 presidential race, because Mitt Romney, the leading GOP candidate, was on the list. The Huffington Post cited data from the confidential tax return in a story headlined: “Mitt Romney’s PAC Funded Anti-Gay Marriage Group: Under the Radar.” Romney’s $10,000 contribution to NOM was linked to the organization’s efforts to help pass Proposition 8, California’s ballot initiative that would effectively ban same-sex “marriage.”
HRC appears to have taken down its post about NOM’s tax return and the IRS whistleblower. But The Huffington Post’s March 30, 2012, story is still online, and it states that “record of the payment was only uncovered Friday, when the pro-gay-rights Human Rights Campaign was sent a private IRS filing from NOM via a whistleblower. The Human Rights Campaign shared the filing with The Huffington Post.”
Seeking IRS Response
After the donor list was published, NOM reported that an official stamp on the tax return confirmed that the document originated from within the IRS. NOM contacted the agency, and then filed Freedom of Information Act requests, but says it still has not received adequate answers.
“The IRS has stonewalled NOM’s efforts to find out what happened, even going so far as to insist it legally can’t even say it’s investigating,” charged Maggie Gallagher, a marriage expert and NOM’s founder, in an Oct. 9 column in the New York Post.
“The supposed reason? Because laws that prevent the disclosure of return information, it claims, also protect anyone who’d be the target of an investigation into breaking those laws, and even the mere fact that the IRS is investigating,” said Gallagher.
Meanwhile, NOM has also raised questions about whether election-year politics influenced the decision to leak its tax return.
Earlier this year, after the IRS’ alleged targeting of tea-party groups seeking tax-exempt status exploded into national scandal, Brian Brown, NOM’s president, pointed to his organization’s problems with the IRS. NOM is one of a number of pro-life, pro-marriage and Catholic individuals and groups who charged that they also were targeted by the IRS, along with tea- party organizations.
“While the same inspector general who uncovered the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups was investigating the case, NOM has been frustrated with the pace of the investigation,” noted the Politico story.
NOM specifically raised concerns about the Human Rights Campaign’s close ties with the Obama re-election campaign.
“In addition to being our principal combatant in the war on traditional marriage, [the Human Rights Campaign’s] president at the time” would leave that position to serve as “a co-chair of President Obama’s re-election campaign,” said Brown in a statement.
Maggie Gallagher noted the connection in her recent New York Post column, which also cited alleged contact between HRC and an IRS official.
“NOM doesn’t know who committed this crime. But it has discovered that some IRS officials who’d have access to the returns — like a senior manager for tax-exempt organizations — were photographed at an HRC Christmas party just a few months before the returns showed up on HRC’s website,” Gallagher charged.
Subsequently, John Eastman told the Register that “Steven Grodnitzky, manager of the IRS’ exempt organization’s office in D.C., is apparently very active with HRC’s fundraising arm. It was he who was photographed at the HRC Christmas party.”
Bloomberg News, in a report on House committee hearings dealing with the IRS scandal, identified Grodnitzky as an IRS supervisor who provided questions that increased scrutiny of tea-party applicants.
The Register contacted HRC on Oct. 17 by telephone and email for comment about contact between the IRS’ exempt organization and HRC. The Register also asked HRC to explain how it had obtained NOM’s confidential data and why it described the source as a “whistleblower.” No comment has been forthcoming, and news stories on NOM’s lawsuit did not include further clarification from HRC.
Over the past year, as Congress launched several investigations into the IRS’ handling of tea-party groups applying for tax-exempt status, the disclosure of NOM’s 2008 tax return was briefly addressed but not resolved.
“IRS officials announced during a congressional hearing this past summer that the investigation [into the leak of NOM’s tax return was ‘not ongoing.’ We have not been informed one way or the other,” said Eastman, expressing frustration with the lack of clarity about whether the IRS actually completed an investigation and whether it identified the source of the leak.
Two House committees are moving ahead with their investigations, but Eastman remains pessimistic about the outcome.
The IRS has interpreted the IRS Code to mean that personnel “can’t disclose the results of their investigations without breaching the confidentiality of the felon who breached our confidentiality,” charged Eastman.
Thus House committee members investigating the leak “are concerned that giving us IRS-related information might itself be illegal,” he added.
“And that is why we are pursuing our remedy in court: to put an end to that nonsensical interpretation of the federal law being used to shield felons.”
Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.
Editor’s note: EWTN News, Inc. operates the National Catholic Register and filed for nonprofit status on June 8, 2011. This determination is still pending with the IRS.