Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

May 15, 2013

Justice investigating IRS targeting of tea party

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating the Internal Revenue Service for targeting tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt status, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday, widening a probe that includes investigations by three committees in Congress.

Ineffective management at the IRS allowed agents to improperly target tea party groups for more than 18 moths, concluded one investigation, by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. The inspector general’s report, released Tuesday, lays much of the blame on IRS supervisors in Washington who oversaw a group of specialists in Cincinnati who screened applications for tax exempt status.

The report does not indicate that Washington initiated the targeting of conservative groups. But it does say a top supervisor in Washington did not adequately supervise agents in the field even after she learned the agents were acting improperly.

Holder said he ordered the FBI to investigate Friday — the day the IRS publicly acknowledged that it had singled out conservative groups.

“Those (actions) were, I think, as everyone can agree, if not criminal, they were certainly outrageous and unacceptable,” Holder said. “But we are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations.”

Three congressional committees already are investigating the IRS for singling out tea party and other conservative groups during the 2010 congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election. But Holder’s announcement takes the matter to another level, if investigators are able to prove that laws were broken.

Holder said he wasn’t sure which laws may have been broken.

The agency started targeting groups with “Tea Party,” ‘’Patriots” or “9/12 Project” in their applications for tax exempt status in March 2010, the inspector general’s report said. Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax exempt organizations, was briefed on the matter in June 2011.

Within days, she ordered agents to change the criteria for singling out groups to a more generic “organizations involved with political, lobbying, or advocacy.” But by January 2012, agents started singling out groups that promoted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Agents made the changes “without executive approval because they believed the July 2011 criteria were too broad,” the report said.

IRS agents were trying to determine whether the political activities of such groups disqualified them for tax-exempt status. These groups were claiming tax-exempt status as organizations promoting social welfare. Unlike other charitable groups, they can engage in political activity. But politics cannot be their primary mission.

It is up to the IRS to make the determination.

But by using improper criteria, the IRS targeted some groups, even though there were no indications that they engaged in significant political activities, the report said. Other non-tea party groups that had significant political activities were not screened, the report said.

“The criteria developed by the Determinations Unit gives the appearance that the IRS is not impartial in conducting its mission,” the report said.

In all, IRS agents identified 296 applications for additional, sometimes burdensome scrutiny. Ninety-one of them should not have been targeted because they did not indicate they were engaged in significant political activities, investigators concluded.

Of the groups that were not engaged in significant political activities, 17 were tea party, patriot or 9/12 groups, the report said.

The additional screening resulted in long delays as IRS agents asked intrusive, sometimes inappropriate questions, or merely let applications languish, the report said. Inappropriate questions included requests for lists of donors and the political affiliation of officers.

As of December, the delays averaged 574 days, which probably made donors reluctant to contribute, the report said. No group has had their application denied, though about half are still waiting, the IRS said.

House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said that report “magnifies our concerns about the breadth and depth” of the IRS’s targeting of certain groups.

“Unfortunately, the report raises more questions than it answers,” Issa said. “What we do know for sure is that the IRS personnel responsible for granting tax exemptions systematically targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny, and that officials in Washington, D.C. were aware of this practice, even while publically claiming that it never happened.”

The practice ended in May 2012, when the criteria for additional scrutiny was changed to “organizations with indicators of significant amounts of political campaign intervention (raising questions as to exempt purpose and/or excess private benefit),” the report said.

“After seeing issues with particular cases, inappropriate shortcuts were used to determine which cases may be engaging in political activities,” the IRS said in a statement Tuesday evening. “It is important to note that the vast majority of these cases would still have been centralized based on the general criteria used for other cases.”

“It is also important to understand that the group of centralized cases included organizations of all political views,” the statement said.

The IRS has said the improper reviews were limited to a Cincinnati office where a special team was assembled to screen them. The inspector general’s report does not contradict the agency on this assertion.

However, documents obtained by The Associated Press suggest the targeting of conservative groups could be more widespread. Documents sent from the IRS to tea party groups show that IRS offices in California and Washington, D.C., also sought extensive information from tea party groups who requested tax-exempt status.

In letters provided by the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents 27 tea party groups that have sought tax exempt status, IRS officials from two cities in California — El Monte and Laguna Nigel —  as well as officials in Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati contacted groups seeking extensive information.

The law center’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, said he was astonished the IRS said activity was limited to Cincinnati.

“To me, that was what was mind-boggling, they tried to create a narrative,” he said.

On Monday, the IRS said acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was first informed on May, 3, 2012, that applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups were inappropriately singled out for extra scrutiny.

At least twice after the briefing, Miller wrote letters to members of Congress to explain the process of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status without disclosing that tea party groups had been targeted. On July 25, 2012, Miller testified before the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee but again did not mention the additional scrutiny — despite being asked about it.

On Tuesday, the IRS said, “While flaws in our process were corrected last year based on our own review, we only recently discussed this publicly as there had been a concurrent ongoing (inspector general) audit of the situation.  There was no intent to hide this issue, but rather we waited until (the inspector general) completed their fact finding, made recommendations, and we reviewed their findings.

Miller was a deputy commissioner at the time. He became acting commissioner in November, after Commissioner Douglas Shulman completed his five-year term. Shulman had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

Miller is scheduled to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee at a hearing Friday.

———

Associated Press writer Pete Yost contributed to this report.

———

Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

1
Text Only
Top News
  • Michigan affirmative ban is OK, Supreme Court says

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • ‘Piles and piles’ of bodies in South Sudan slaughter

    Gunmen who targeted both children and the elderly left “piles and piles” of bodies — many of those in a mosque — in a provincial capital in South Sudan, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official in the country said Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • Obama_Stew.jpg Obama views mudslide scene

    Swooping over a terrain of great sadness and death, President Barack Obama took an aerial tour Tuesday of the place where more than three dozen people perished in a mudslide last month, then mourned privately with those who lost loved ones in the destruction.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wall Street_Stew.jpg Earnings and corporate deals lift U.S. stocks

    Corporate deals and some solid earnings reports propelled the stock market to its sixth straight gain Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Economy College Gradu_Stew.jpg Job market for college grads better but still weak

    With college commencement ceremonies nearing, the government is offering a modest dose of good news for graduating seniors: The job market is brightening for new grads — a bit.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supreme Court TV On t_Stew.jpg Internet TV case: Justices skeptical, concerned

    Grappling with fast-changing technology, Supreme Court justices debated Tuesday whether they can protect the copyrights of TV broadcasters to the shows they send out without strangling innovations in the use of the internet.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History

    In 1791, the 15th president of the United States, James Buchanan, was born in Franklin County, Pa.

    April 23, 2014

  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results