One representative compared the experience to attempts to intimidate the NAACP in the 1950s.
For the first time, representatives of some of the conservative groups targeted by the IRS had their say on Capitol Hill at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing investigating the scandal.
Their testimony Tuesday was often emotional and sometimes angry, eliciting apologies from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
The extra scrutiny that groups received during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles delayed approval of their applications for tax-exempt status for three years in some cases, while others were not approved at all, according to an audit report by Treasury Department inspector general J. Russell George.
"I am a born-free, American woman — wife, mother and citizen — and I'm telling my government that you've forgotten your place," said Wetumpka Tea Party president Becky Gerritson."
George Eastman, who heads the National Organization for Marriage, accused the IRS of disclosing confidential donor information in an effort to intimidate the group. He compared the experience to a 1958 Supreme Court case filed after the state of Alabama subpoenaed membership lists and other records from the NAACP in an effort to prevent the civil rights organization from operating there.
"What's happening to the National Organization for Marriage donors, the level of intimidation that's going on against them is starting to rival what went on — the Supreme Court shut down in NAACP v. Alabama," Eastman said in response to a question from Rep. Charles Rangel. "There's a reason some people want to have their activities confidential, because — so that they don't get harassed and intimidated out of participating in the political process."
Rangel likened the actions of the group of IRS employees in Cincinnati who allegedly were behind the targeting to a "cancer."
"We have to find out what caused this so that no Americans would be subject to the type of bias and discrimination that some of you and many others who are not here have suffered," the New York lawmaker said. "And we have to make certain that it doesn't happen, but even more important, to try to find out just how many people were contaminated by the presence of those people that have done this to our country."
George was scheduled to release another report Tuesday providing details about the $50 million the agency spent on 225 employee conferences from 2010 through 2012.
One training conference cost $4.1 million and included upgrades to luxury rooms, free drinks and a speaker who was paid $17,000 to discuss "leadership through art."
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