May 13, 2013 (TSR) – At various points over the past two years, Internal Revenue Service officials singled out for scrutiny not only groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names but also nonprofit groups that criticized the government and sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution, according to documents in an audit conducted by the agency’s inspector general.
The documents, obtained by The Washington Post from a congressional aide with knowledge of the findings, show that the IRS field office in charge of evaluating applications for tax-exempt status decided to focus on groups making statements that “criticize how the country is being run” and those that were involved in educating Americans “on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
The staffers in the Cincinnati field office were making high-level decisions on how to evaluate the groups because a decade ago the IRS assigned all applications to that unit. The IRS also eliminated an automatic after-the-fact review process Washington used to conduct such determinations.
Marcus Owens, who oversaw tax-exempt groups at the IRS between 1990 and 1999, said that delegation “carries with it a risk” because the Cincinnati office “isn’t as plugged into what’s [politically] sensitive as Washington.”
Owens, now with the firm Caplin & Drysdale, said that before the agency’s most recent reorganization, it had a series of “tripwires in place” that could catch unfair targeting, including the fact that the IRS identified its criteria for special scrutiny in a public manual.
“There’s no longer that safety valve, and as a result, the IRS has been rolling the dice ever since,” said Owens, who worked at the agency for nearly a quarter-century and now represents some organizations seeking tax-exempt status. (The Washington Post)
Senior Internal Revenue Service officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011, according to a draft of an inspector general’s report obtained by the Associated Press that seemingly contradicts public statements by the IRS commissioner. The inquirer
On June 29, 2011, Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, learned at a meeting that groups were being targeted, according to the watchdog’s report. At the meeting, she was told that groups with Tea Party, Patriot, or 9/12 Project in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny, the report says. The inquirer
Over two years, IRS field office agents repeatedly changed their criteria while sifting through thousands of applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status to select ones for possible closer examination, the findings showed. Reuters
By July 2011, the IRS was no longer targeting just groups with certain key words in their names. Rather, the screening criteria had changed to “organizations involved with political, lobbying, or advocacy.” Reuters
But then it changed again in January 2012 to cover “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, social economic reform/movement,” according to the findings contained in a Treasury Department watchdog report. (Reuters)
But the inspector general’s timeline showed the effort to single out Tea Party groups goes back to March 2010 when a special Determinations Unit in the Cincinnati office of the I.R.S. began searching tax-exemption applications from groups using the names “Tea Party,” “patriots” or “9/12,” a movement begun by Glenn Beck. The unit was also looking for “applications involving political sounding names” like “We the People” or “Take Back the Country,” according to the document.
That time frame brought the “Be On the Lookout” list back to the Tea Party movement’s early months, well before the November 2010 Congressional elections, when the movement helped fuel a historic Republican landslide.
On June 29, 2011, the document states, Ms. Lerner was briefed on the effort, and by then the search appeared even more refined to conservative organizations. Beyond “Tea Party,” “Patriots” and “9/12 Project,” the Cincinnati team was looking at issues of government spending, debt and taxes; education efforts to “make America a better place to live”; and statements in the case file that “criticize how the country is being run.”
Ms. Lerner said Friday that the terms “Tea Party” and “patriots” were used as a “shortcut” by the unit, not as a tool to single out any one political outlook. But the timeline suggests that the search went well beyond a few keywords. Over 100 applications had been identified by that briefing, using criteria with distinctly conservative undertones.
Just days later, on July 5, a conference call involving Ms. Lerner, a manager of the Determinations Unit and others substantially broadened the search to take out its overt conservative bias. Instead, the lookout list was changed to “organizations involved with political, lobbying or advocacy for exemptions under 501(c)3 or 501(c)4,” a criteria much more in line with concerns that overt political advocates were receiving special tax protection.
But repeated revisions of the lookout list kept lapsing back to the original search. In January 2012, for instance, the search parameters were again revised to “political action-type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement,” criteria broad enough to ensnare liberal organizations as well but seemingly still honed in on the Tea Party’s outspoken views.
Incidentally, the Times’s headline is liberal-bias classic:
I.R.S. Focus on Conservatives Gives G.O.P. an Issue to Seize On
Subtext: “Look what the Republicans are whining about now.” This is the Internal Revenue Service seeking to target perfectly legal organizations based on their political viewpoint.
A headline you never would have seen in the Times:
FBI Focus on Civil Rights Activists Gives Democrats an Issue to Seize On
Sources: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters, PressTV