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For San Francisco radio host and Tea Party favorite Melanie  Morgan, the news that the Internal  Revenue Service has targeted politically active conservative organizations  came as no shock.

"We had a full-blown audit in 2011 and it cost us hundreds of hours to  defend," Morgan said, adding that she has faced IRS inquiries or audits dating  back to the Clinton years. "But I never had a problem during the  Bush administration."

On Monday, the popular morning host on KSFO 560 radio told her audience that  the unfolding scandal involving the federal tax agency has produced a rare  moment in American politics: Activists on the right and left are unified in  their anger over IRS tactics that remind them of Republican President Richard  Nixon's famed "enemies list."

"I think both liberals and conservatives can always agree ... that we cherish  our privacy," Morgan, who co-founded the conservative Sacramento grassroots  activist group Move  America Forward, said Monday. "I really believe that liberals don't like  government intrusion - we feel the same way."

The brouhaha began Friday after the IRS, responding to complaints from  conservatives, admitted making "mistakes" in singling out groups with "tea  party" or "patriot" labels for special attention on their applications for  tax-exempt status, starting in 2010 and continuing through the run-up to the  2012 election.

The IRS acknowledged that most of the investigations were done by a division  of the agency that oversees the burgeoning number of applications for nonprofit,  tax-exempt political groups - which range from conservative Karl  Rove's Crossroads GPS to Organizing for America, the offshoot of the Obama  re-election effort.

San Francisco radio talk show host Melanie Morgan, and a founder of Tea Part group Move America Forward, believes she was targeted by the IRS. Photographed in her home on Monday, May 13, 2013 in Novato, Calif. Photo: Beck Diefenbach, Special To The Chronicle  

San Francisco radio talk show host Melanie Morgan, and a  founder of Tea Part group Move America Forward, believes she was targeted by the  IRS. Photographed in her home on Monday, May 13, 2013 in Novato, Calif. Photo: Beck Diefenbach, Special To The Chronicle

 

The agency initially said the disputed practices, which it said ran contrary  to IRS protocol and had been suspended, appear to have been limited to agents in  the agency's Cincinnati offices. On Monday, the agency acknowledged that senior  officials in Washington were aware in May 2012 that some groups were being  targeted, the Washington Post reported.

An angry president

At a news conference Monday, an angry President Obama said that if the IRS  was "intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that's outrageous - and  there's no place for it."

Obama's sentiments, which Morgan echoed, are shared by other liberals. 

Assemblyman Tom  Ammiano, D-San Francisco, one of the most liberal members of the California  Legislature, on Monday condemned the tax agency's targeting of  conservative groups.

"During the Bush administration, there were reports of the IRS going after  liberal churches," Ammiano said. "Now, there are indications of an attempt to  target political groups on the right."

Ammiano added: "The IRS works for taxpayers who have all kinds of political  opinions, and the IRS needs to target tax abuse, not opinion. They shouldn't  skew audits to one side or the other."

Becky  Bond, vice president and political director of Credo, a liberal group in San  Francisco that has organized protests against plans to build the Keystone XL  pipeline from Canada to Texas, said activists on the left are concerned about  "dark money," undisclosed contributions to political action committees that are  spent on issue advocacy, much of it surrounding elections.

"We'd like to see the IRS put time into enforcing the very few rules we have"  regarding such organizations, she added. "It's totally disconcerting that  they're spending time on a political witch hunt."

Gabe  Rottman, legislative counsel and policy adviser for the American  Civil Liberties Union in Washington, agreed with Morgan that that outrage  has fired up activists across the political spectrum. Rottman said both sides  have felt the sting of abuses under Democratic and  Republican administrations.

Targets of abuse

"It's not just Nixon targeting the far left, it's Kennedy targeting the far  right. ... Under Clinton, it was Paula  Jones and the Heritage  Foundation," he said. "Everyone has a stake" in seeing that the government  doesn't target groups or individuals because of political activity,  he said.

While Obama's condemnation of the IRS' activity is welcome, Rottman said it  doesn't go far enough. "It's quite possible these career staffers in Cincinnati  did this not even realizing this is very troubling under the Constitution. The  lack of oversight and bright-line rules is a big problem."

Morgan said the IRS' examinations of political groups have had an enormous  effect on grassroots activists.

At Move America Forward, a nonprofit charitable organization to help U.S.  troops abroad, "they had an IRS agent sitting in the office every single day for  a year. It was a nightmare," she said.

Morgan, who is affiliated with other conservative groups including the Tea  Party Express, founded by consultant Sal  Russo of Sacramento, said such groups raise money from individuals in $5 and  $10 increments and must spend large sums to defend themselves against  audits.

"I can't prove that it was something that the IRS targeted me for," Morgan  said of the audit two years ago, "but I'm going to get a lawyer and investigate  it," she said. "And if it's true, I'm going to sue the IRS."

On a lighter note, Morgan added that the IRS' latest targeting of  conservative political groups may prove conservatives right on one thing. 

"Liberals have mocked us over this paranoia," she said. "It turns out,  sometimes paranoids do have enemies."

Carla  Marinucci is The San Francisco Chronicle's senior political writer. E-mail:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.@cmarinucci

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