IRS Targeted Conservative Groups for Inappropriate Reviews

A spokesperson for the IRS has admitted that the agency took inappropriate measures during the Presidential election in November 2012 to review the tax-exempt status of certain conservative political groups.

According to Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS team that oversees tax-exempt organizations, the IRS specifically targeted organizations whose names on their applications for tax-exempt status included the words “tea party” or “patriot.”  Among other issues, the IRS required that these organizations provide a complete list of those who had donated funds to them.  Requesting a list of donors specifically violates an IRS policy on reviewing such information about groups that apply for tax-exempt status.

“That was wrong.  That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive, and it was inappropriate.  That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner noted at a recent speaking engagement.  “The IRS would like to apologize for that.”

Lerner claimed that employees at an IRS office in Cincinnati initiated the requests for donor information based on the “tea party” and “patriot” key words without authorization from their supervisors or for political motivations.  It was not clear from Lerner’s comments when leadership within the organization became aware of the practice.

The admission by the IRS validates claims made by various conservative organizations during the Presidential elections about targeted harassment.  At the time, those organizations claimed they were being effectively filibustered by the IRS, which was requiring that they complete overly-lengthy questionnaires in order to apply for tax-exempt status.

The forms in question, which were available to the public, required that the applicant organization provide for all of its members information about the political activities, postings on social networking sites, and details about family members.

The admission by the IRS is also counter to previous discussions on the subject with the IRS.  In March 2012, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman spoke before a House Ways and Means committee that the IRS did not single out organizations for review based on the political views of that organization.

“There’s absolutely no targeting.  [The tax-exempt application process] is the kind of back and forth that happens to people,” noted Shulman at the time.

Shulman held his 6-year term as IRS Commissioner based on an appointment from then President George W. Bush.  Shulman’s term ended in November 2012.  President Obama has yet to appoint a successor to Shulman.  Steven Miller is functioning as the acting IRS Commissioner until such an appointment is made.

On Friday, Senate leaders called for the Obama administration to conduct a thorough review of the IRS’ processes to ensure other arms of the agency have not adopted a similar practice toward conservative organizations.

“Make no mistake, an apology won’t put this issue to rest,” noted Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in a prepared statement.  “Now more than ever we need to send a clear message to the Obama administration that the First Amendment is non-negotiable, and that apologies after an election year are not a sufficient response to what we now know took place at the IRS.  This kind of political thuggery has absolutely no place in our politics.”

by Mark Johnston

Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.