A few months later, True the Vote became the subject of congressional scrutiny. In September, Senator Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) wrote to Thomas Perez, then the assistant attorney general of the civil rights division at the Department of Justice (who has now been nominated for labor secretary). “As you know, an organization called ‘True the Vote,’ which is an offshoot of the Tea Party, is leading a voter suppression campaign in many states,” Boxer wrote, adding that “this type of intimidation must stop. I don’t believe this is ‘True the Vote.’ I believe it’s ‘Stop the Vote.’”
And in October, Representative Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, attacked True the Vote in a letter. He wrote that “some have suggested that your true goal is not voter integrity, but voter suppression against thousands of legitimate voters who traditionally vote for Democratic candidates.” He added that: “If these efforts are intentional, politically motivated, and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights.” He also decried True the Vote on MSNBC and CNN.
Catherine now says that she “absolutely” thinks that because she worked against voter fraud, the Left was irked and decided to target her.
The next month, in November 2012, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental agency, showed up for an unscheduled audit at Engelbrecht Manufacturing. Catherine says the inspector told her the agency had received a complaint but couldn’t provide any more details. After the inspection, the agency notified the Engelbrechts that they needed to pay for an additional mechanical permit, which cost about $2,000 per year.
Since then, the IRS has sent two further rounds of questions to Catherine for her organizations. And last month, the ATF conducted a second unscheduled audit at Engelbrecht Manufacturing.
Catherine says she still hasn’t received IRS approval for her nonprofits, though she filed nearly three years ago. And “the way all of these personal instances interweave with what was going on on the nonprofit side . . . it amounts to something. You can’t help but think that statistically, this has to be coordinated on some level.”
On behalf of the True the Vote and King Street Patriots, Representative Ted Poe (R., Texas) sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI, OSHA, and the ATF, inquiring whether the organizations were under criminal investigation. A statement on Poe’s website states that “the reply from these agencies was that none of these individuals were under criminal investigation. Well, if they’re not, why are they being treated like criminals? Just because they question government.”
Catherine says she knows of at least one other group that received government inquiries about its relationship with True the Vote, and she suspects more did, too. And other Tea Party groups decided not to form nonprofits at all after learning about her experience, she says. “They were scared,” she explains, “and you shouldn’t be scared of your government.”
Meanwhile, Catherine says the harassment has forced her to seriously reconsider whether her political activity is worth the government harassment she’s faced.
“I left a thriving family business with my husband that I loved, to do something I didn’t necessarily love, but [which] I thought had to be done,” she says. “But I really think if we don’t do this, if we don’t stand up and speak now, there might not [always] be that chance.”
Her husband offers an additional observation: “If you knew my wife, you’d know she doesn’t back down from anybody. They picked on the wrong person when they started picking on her.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
Editor’s Note: This piece has been amended since its inital posting.