Interest in GOP and conservative causes increases with IRS scandal

Published  6:18 PM HST Jun 14, 2013
GOP Volunteers
HONOLULU -

There has always been a certain sense of fear and loathing concerning the Internal Revenue Service. But when it was revealed in early May that the IRS had been targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, those feelings were exacerbated times ten.

"To be singled out and targeted, it's very discouraging and it's a scary thing going forward," said Dylan Nonaka, a partner with The Kahua Group, a political consulting firm with close ties to Hawaii conservatives. "Why would any young person, or old person for that matter, want to be involved in politics if they're going to be looked at and singled out by the IRS?"

However, the brewing scandal may be having the reverse effect. Hawaii Republican Party Executive Director Nacia Blom says interest in the GOP has grown noticeably ever since news about the IRS controversy first broke May 7.

"We haven't seen any membership drops or anything," Blom told KITV4. "In fact, I think it's had the exact opposite effect. A lot more people are saying this is enough and you guys have an answer. 'How can the Hawaii Republican Party help us?'"

The Hawaii GOP is even going a step further, trying to capitalize on outrage over the IRS by mentioning the scandal in mailers and solicitations to donors. Later this month, on June 29 and 30, the party will hold a sidewalk sale to raise funds for its $140,000 mortgage.  

"There's nobody who comes down and donates stuff and says, 'It's because of the IRS,' but I think we'll see more interest," said Blom. "I'm glad it happened because now people who weren't paying attention are paying attention."

Groups that tend to be more conservative on issues than the Hawaii GOP are also noticing a surge in interest. The Hawaii Republican Assembly (HIRA) has seen its membership grow from 20 to 100 in just in the past few weeks. The group formalized registered itself on May 25.

"All these terrible pieces of malfeasance that are coming out of the federal government today are motivating people to come and get to our organization," said HIRA President Tito Montes. "The main thing that we hear from people is that the message we bring is refreshing, because we do stand on strong conservative principles."

Whether fallout from the IRS scandal and other Washington controversies translates into a successful election cycle for Republicans in 2014 remains to be seen, but Montes says he feels the same kind of grassroots momentum that led to the GOP's takeover of the U.S. House in 2010.

"We're starting to see that same type of activism here in 2013, and we're hoping that it'll just build and continue on in 2014," he said.

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