Auditing the Tea Party

It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. During the last election cycle some Tea Party and conservative groups noticed that the IRS was unusually curious about their tax exempt status. This might be dismissed as anti-government paranoia, except that last Friday an official from the IRS admitted to doing just that.

An IRS official apologized on Friday to tea party organizations and other conservative groups for inappropriately targeting them during the 2012 election, the Associated Press reports.

The groups, which enjoyed tax-exempt status under the internal revenue code, were singled out for additional scrutiny of their tax exemption if their names included the words “tea party” or “patriot.” In several cases, the groups were asked to provide a list of donors for review, usually a violation of IRS policy.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive, and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases,” said Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. “The IRS would like to apologize for that.”

Lerner said the additional scrutiny was initiated by lower-level employees working out of Cincinnati, and that the practice was not a product of political bias. She told the Associated Press that high-level officials were not informed of the practice. On a conference call on Friday, IRS officials said they did not know whether any administration officials at the White House or Treasury Department were aware of the practice.

During the election, several conservative groups cried foul over what they saw as undue pressure justify their tax-exempt status, accusing the IRS of sending arduous questionnaires seeking information about their members’ political activities.

The story that it was just a few low level employees didn’t last long.

Higher-level Internal Revenue Service officials took part in discussions as far back as August 2011 about targeting by lower-level tax agents of “Tea Party” and other conservative groups, according to documents reviewed by Reuters on Monday.

The documents show the offices of the IRS’s chief counsel and deputy commissioner for services and enforcement communicated about the targeting with lower-level officials on August 4, 2011, and March 8, 2012, respectively.

The two communications occurred weeks and months before Doug Shulman, then the commissioner of the IRS, told congressional panels in late March 2012 that no groups were being targeted for extra scrutiny by the tax agency.

The IRS has maintained that its senior leadership did not know for some time that lower-level agents were applying extra scrutiny to applications for tax-exempt status from groups with key words in their names, such as “Tea Party” and “Patriot.

The agency said in a statement on Monday that Steven Miller, who is now acting IRS commissioner, was first informed in early May 2012 that some groups seeking tax-exempt status had been “improperly identified by name” and subjected to extra scrutiny.

Late on Monday, Senate Finance Committee Republicans said Shulman was briefed on the targeting in May 2012, a date not previously disclosed. An aide said committee staff learned this on Monday from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), an independent IRS watchdog.

It keeps getting worse and worse. The Tea Party weren’t the only ones selected for special attention by the IRS.

The Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of conservative groups went beyond those with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names—as the agency admitted Friday—to also include ones worried about government spending, debt or taxes, and even ones that lobbied to “make America a better place to live,” according to new details of a government probe.

The investigation also revealed that a high-ranking IRS official knew as early as mid-2011 that conservative groups were being inappropriately targeted—nearly a year before then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a congressional committee the agency wasn’t targeting conservative groups.

The new disclosures are likely to inflame a widening controversy over IRS handling of dozens of applications by tea-party, patriot and other conservative groups for tax-exempt status.

The details emerged from disclosures to congressional investigators by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The findings, which were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, don’t make clear who came up with the idea to give extra scrutiny to the conservative groups.

The inspector general’s office has been conducting an audit of the IRS’s handling of the applications process and is expected to release a report this week. The audit follows complaints last year by numerous tea-party and other conservative groups that they had been singled out and subjected to excessive and inappropriate questioning. Many groups say they were asked for lists of their donors and other sensitive information.

On Sunday, a government official said the report will note that IRS officials told investigators that no one outside the IRS was involved in developing the criteria the agency now acknowledges were flawed.

In my opinion this is worse than the scandal regarding the Benghazi attacks last September 11. It is regrettable and unfortunate that four Americans lost their lives and an investigation is in order to determine what went wrong, but the worst that the Obama administration can be charged with there, is gross incompetence and negligence, and a coverup to ensure that the narrative that al-Qaeda was in retreat not be challenged. The issue with the IRS is the deliberate use of the federal government’s power to harass people and organizations opposed to the administration.

Is President Obama responsible for the questionable activities of the IRS? Probably not directly. Richard Nixon almost certainly neither knew of or authorized the break in at Watergate. He was still responsible for the scandal because the President sets the tone for his administration. The Nixon administration became one in which the suggestion that someone break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters and install listening devices was not instantly dismissed as illegal and insane, but was approved and acted upon. President Obama probably never suggested that the IRS should investigate Tea Party organizations, but the employees at the IRS must have suspected that such activity would be condoned by President, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun” and “punish our enemies in the voting booth“. Barack Obama has never seemed to be especially interested in getting along with his opponents. Perhaps it is a legacy of his days as a community organizer, but Obama seems to be more interested in destroying those who oppose his policies, which makes this whole affair all the more chilling.

 

 

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One Response to “Auditing the Tea Party”

  1. Trumped Up Scandal | David's Commonplace Book Says:

    […] Auditing the Tea Party (davidscommonplacebook.wordpress.com) […]

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