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Striking back: Conservative grassroots group launches legal battle against Democratic senators

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, right, accompanied by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, May 2, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A Tea Party group has launched a legal offensive against Democratic Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., accusing the three lawmakers of conspiring to silence conservative voices.

“I know how Washington operates and I hope that lawmakers act to protect our free speech,” Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, told the Washington Examiner. “I would hope that they would put our free speech rights over party politics.”

In two of the three legal complaints delivered this week to the Senate Ethics Committee, the latest of which was filed Thursday, the Tea Party group focuses on the Internal Revenue Service's improper targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

“We knew that the targeting was going on,” Martin said. “It took for the IRS to admit it for it to come out.”

A complaint filed Thursday against Levin alleges that the Michigan senator “encouraged the IRS repeatedly to investigate various conservative groups and had people targeted by name,” Martin said.

“He was even involved in getting specific information about individual taxpayers,” she said.

Read a copy of the complaint here:


06-05-2014 Ethics Complaint vs Levin With Attachments by Becket Adams

Separately, a complaint filed Tuesday against Whitehouse “stems from a [Freedom of Information Act] request filed by Judicial Watch,” Martin said, referring to the conservative watchdog group.

She explained that emails obtained by Judicial Watch have convinced the Tea Party group that the Rhode Island senator directly influenced the IRS in its decision to apply additional scrutiny to conservative grassroots groups.

“What we learned from Judicial Watch ... is that he was also involved in the IRS' targeting of Tea Party leaders and trying to make an example of us,” she said.

Here’s the complaint against Whitehouse:


Whitehouse Ethics Letter With Exhibits (1) by Becket Adams

The third and final complaint, filed Tuesday against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, focuses specifically on the Nevada senator's constant attacks on billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

“He is targeting private citizens and he's doing so by using his office as senator to attack those with whom he disagrees with,” she said.

Martin referred to Reid using his senate webpage to launch personal attacks on the Kochs, and also for participating in a question-and-answer session at a screening last month of an anti-Koch movie, titled “Koch Brothers Exposed: 2014 Edition,” in the Capitol Visitor Center.

“He profits from attacking private citizens by holding fundraisers against people who disagree with him,” she said.

Here’s the complaint filed against Reid:


Reid Ethics Complaint With Exhibits (1) by Becket Adams

Martin admitted she’s not sure how far the complaints will go in the Senate Ethics Committee. Still, she added, her Tea Party group is committed to holding lawmakers accountable for what they believe has been a pattern of unethical and oppressive behavior.

“I hope what will happen is that the ethics committee will take these allegations seriously and launch a full-scale investigation and take the appropriate action. Whatever they think is appropriate,” she said. “Having been the victims of the IRS' targeting, the Tea Party Patriots have seen how this kind of abuse of power can be used to silence speech.”

“We can't let that happen. We're standing for the First Amendment. For all Americans,” she added.

In a statement, Whitehouse spokesman Seth Larson said the complaints “are frivolous and utterly without merit. As a former attorney general and U.S. Attorney, Senator Whitehouse noticed that certain legal declarations appeared to violate 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1001, which makes false statements a crime. Bringing such activities to the attention of the relevant federal authorities is perfectly appropriate for a senator, indeed any citizen who thinks they may be witness to a crime.”

Levin and Reid's offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Editor's note: Judicial Watch is representing the Washington Examiner in the newspaper's federal lawsuit seeking access to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau records under FOIA.