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Two prominent Missouri Republicans are lawyers representing tea party in first suit against IRS

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 23, 2013 - Bill Randles, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for Missouri governor last year, is back in the news – and potentially in the national limelight.

Randles, a Kansas City lawyer, has agreed to be co-counsel for the first lawsuit filed by a tea party group against the Internal Revenue Service, an offshoot of the controversy over the IRS’ admitted targeting of such groups when they filed for tax-exempt status.

The lead lawyer in the case is former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves, also of Kansas City, who ran unsuccessfully for Missouri state treasurer in the 1990s and is the brother of U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio.

Randles said in a telephone interview that he was asked by Todd Graves to join the legal team representing NorCal Tea Party, a group based in Northern California. The lawsuit was filed Monday in Ohio, Randles said, because that’s where the IRS unit handling tax-exempt applications was based.

So far, no Missouri tea party groups have alleged any inappropriate IRS scrutiny directed at them -- although several held rallies this week outside regional IRS offices in the state.

Randles said that the lawsuit makes two chief assertions:

  1. That the IRS scrutiny violated the federal Privacy Act that restricts the type of personal information the government can seek;
  2. That the tea party group's constitutional rights were violated, particularly its First Amendment rights of free speech and free association.

In addition, the suit is seeking “class action’’ status, which would allow Randles, Graves and their team to represent every tea party group in the country that has sought tax-exempt status.
Many of the tea party groups, including the St. Louis Tea Party, have sought tax exemption under the IRS’ 501(C)(4) provision, which applies to groups promoting “social welfare.” While the groups obtaining the provision don’t pay taxes, their donations are not tax exempt. But the donors do not have to be disclosed, an aspect that has made the 501(C)(4) status sought after by some groups.

Other tea party groups have sought 501(C)(3) status, Randles said. Those groups’ donations are tax exempt, but their donors also must be identified.

Randles said that the NorCal Tea Party leaders were improperly required to fill out extensive IRS questionnaires that sought, among other things:

  1. The names of all the group’s volunteers and whether any of them have run for office;
  2. Copies of all the literature produced and distributed by the tea party group;
  3. Transcripts of the speeches delivered at tea party events;
  4. “Detailed information on every director and board member.”

The questionnaire was sent to NorCal in January 2012, Randles said, with a requirement that the answers be filed within two weeks “under penalty of perjury.”
If the class-action status is granted, Randles and Graves could become national figures as the tea parties’ lawyers and spokesmen, in what could be a lengthy legal fight.

Randles had lost the GOP nomination last year to St.Louis business Dave Spence, who went on to lose to Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Randles' wife, Bev Randles, is the state chair for the Missouri chapter of the Club for Growth, a fiscally conservative group.

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