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Local tea party activists protest at IRS office, predict movement re-energized

Bill Hennessy
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 21, 2013: The national controversy over the IRS’ examination of tea party groups’ applications for special tax-exempt status appears to be rekindling the movement locally, as more than 100 showed up in Chesterfield today to protest outside the federal agency’s West County office.

Waving signs that blasted the IRS, and President Barack Obama, the protesters were part of a national effort by tea party groups to highlight their ire over recent disclosures that some of them have been closely scrutinized by the IRS as they have sought legal status as tax exempt 501C4 groups.

Under the federal tax code, 501C4 groups are supposed to be focused on "social welfare." If the status is granted, donors’ contributions are not tax exempt — but the donors do not need to be disclosed.

Bill Hennessy, founder and spokesman of the St. Louis Tea Party, said his group has been waiting more than two years for the IRS to approve its tax-exempt status as a 501C4 group.  But Hennessy said that his group’s leaders haven’t received any letters from the IRS indicating any special scrutiny.

Hennessy added that he hasn’t heard of any Missouri conservative groups getting special IRS attention, but emphasized that wasn’t the sole point of today’s rally.

"Today is to draw attention to the growing scandals that get worse every day," he said, adding that he rejected the notion that the president hadn’t been aware of what the IRS was doing.

"If he is that detached from the operations of government, we have a big problem," Hennessy added.

"It’s very suspicious when you have a president who says, 'Get in their faces,' " Hennessy said, asserting that the Obama administration has encouraging its allies for years to challenge conservatives who disagree with him on various issues.

Hennessy said that the St. Louis Tea Party supports those who call for a special federal prosecutor to be appointed, to probe into the IRS’ activities to determine whether any laws were broken.

The protesters included leaders of several tea party groups, and some Republican activists, such as Teresa Douglas, the St. Louis County Republican committeewoman for Lemay Township. Douglas called for the IRS to be dismantled.

Douglas asserted that presidents since Franklin Delano Roosevelt have used the IRS for decades to target Americans. "The IRS should be disbanded. They were never constitutionally organized," she said.

Douglas was among several Republicans activists who took part in today’s rally, which Hennessy acknowledged was the first major public event involving the St. Louis Tea Party in at least two years.

He says the group, highly visible in the 2010 elections, has sought since then to improve its grassroots operations and build a broader base of supporters and allies.

Hennessy predicted that the IRS scandal may help tea party groups promote their message of less government. "We want government to be downsized to the point where normal people can handle it,’" he said. "The American Dream isn’t to own your own home. It’s to own your own life."

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.