By Rob Nikolewski
Internal Revenue Service officials not only wanted a wide variety of information from the Albuquerque Tea Party's application for non-profit status, it also wanted to know what contacts it had with people from other political organizations too.
That included an 83-year-old great-grandmother who was once held in a World War II internment camp, New Mexico Watchdog has discovered.
"I've always paid my taxes and everything," Marianne Chiffelle told New Mexico Watchdog. "What I do think is, it doesn't surprise me...because of this government we have at the moment."
According to a review of documents conducted by the online news organization Politico, (in a story headlined "The IRS wants YOU -- to share everything"), the IRS asked the Albuquerque Tea Party about connections to other groups, including "Marianne Chiffelle's Breakfasts."
That prompted us to do some digging.
It took New Mexico Watchdog less than an hour to learn that "Marianne Chiffelle's Breakfasts" is not some restaurant chain, but a reference to the volunteer work of Chiffelle, a retiree who helps organize informal 9 a.m. meetings for members of the Bernalillo County Republican Party.
The group meets on Fridays at a Golden Corral restaurant. "We've had these meetings for a long time," Chiffelle said. "It's not a business."
Chiffelle is a naturalized American citizen who was born in what was then called the Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia. Her father was an executive for Shell Oil and when World War II broke out Chiffelle was sent to a Japanese internment camp where she spent four years, from age 12 to 16.
After the war, she moved to the Netherlands and in 1960 she and her late husband immigrated to the United States.
Since living in Albuquerque, Chiffelle has been active in GOP politics and conservative causes. She helped establish the Children's Freedom Scholarship Fund, which hands out patriotic coloring books to youngsters in the Albuquerque area.
"The kids don't have any idea, they think freedom is just there for the taking," Chiffelle said.
The book includes pictures of U.S. presidents and puzzles for kids to learn about U.S. history, as well as essays such as "What Does Freedom Mean to You?"
New Mexico Watchdog reviewed the coloring book and found nothing advocating for political parties or organizations.
Recent entries on Chiffelle's Facebook page include a link to a call for cuts in salaries to members of Congress, the vice president and president, as well as a petition to send a sympathy card to those affected by the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
While no fan of the Obama administration, Chiffelle says she is no pitchfork-wielding, anti-government type.
"The fact itself that you have to pay tax(es) to the government is okay," she said. "But the way they interpret it and how many rules there are, that's wrong."
The IRS is embroiled in a national scandal after revealing that it has targeted tea party and conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for non-profit, 501(c)4 status between 2010 and the 2012 presidential election. The Albuquerque Tea Party is one of the organizations that's been wrangling with the IRS since 2009.
"They (the IRS) have a job to do, I understand that," Albuquerque Tea Party President Rick Harbaugh told New Mexico Watchdog. "I think they overstepped that a lot."
The Politico story mentioned the IRS also wanted the Albuquerque Tea Party to supply more information about a group called Conspiracy Brews.
An Internet search revealed that Conspiracy Brews is a weekly meeting of Albuquerque political types that was founded by Janice Arnold-Jones -- a former Republican nominee for Congress, member of the state legislature and current Albuquerque City Council member.
"It's just a discussion group," Arnold-Jones said. "When the group named itself, it was done in the interests of a conspiracy for good government...it leans conservative but it's an interesting mix of people. Our only rule is, when people speak you have to listen."
"I attended just one meeting," Harbaugh said.
The website design for Conspiracy Brews is simple and New Mexico Watchdog found no anti-government rhetoric on the site.
Arnold-Jones said she does not lead the group and it's "not a taxable entity of any sort."
New Mexico Watchdog counted 25 attendees at the group's weekly Saturday meeting, including Chiffelle, who is a regular.
The Politico story mentioning Conspiracy Brews and Chiffelle prompted some jokes but also some serious discussion.
"The part I'm not delighted about," Arnold-Jones said, "is the fact that the IRS is picking and choosing (whom to investigate) ... I think this is an incredible erosion of trust."
As for Chiffelle, having her name mentioned as part of the IRS investigation has drawn more attention than she's accustomed to but she seemed genuinely unperturbed.
"Don't cut me short," Chiffelle said. "I was a prisoner of war in the Second World War. If the Japanese couldn't kill me, no one else can. That's my philosophy. If something is unfair, I will fight to the death...Nothing upsets me. But I'll do something about it."
Rob Nikolewski is a reporter with New Mexico Watchdog, which is affiliated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
You can't make this shit up. Seriously. - SoRo