New Documents Turn up the Heat on IRS

Image: New Documents Turn up the Heat on IRS

Wednesday, 18 Sep 2013 12:00 PM

By Lisa Barron

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The Internal Revenue Service targeted political groups based on the content of their literature, flagging any "anti-Obama rhetoric" and "propaganda" that turned up in applications for tax-exempt status, according to internal IRS documents from 2011.

The documents, obtained by USA Today, list 162 groups along with comments by IRS lawyers in Washington raising questions about their political, lobbying, and advocacy activities.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a nonprofit legal institution that represents 23 of the groups on the IRS list, said the new documents are “the most powerful evidence yet of a coordinated effort” by the IRS to target tea party and other conservative groups.

"The political motivations of this are so patently obvious, but then to have a document that spells it out like this is very damaging to the IRS," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the center, told the newspaper. "I hope the FBI has seen these documents."

The targeting scandal broke in May when Lois Lerner, then director of the IRS Exempt Organizations division, admitted that the agency had targeted tea party groups for additional scrutiny starting in 2010.

More than 80 percent of the organizations on the newly uncovered "political advocacy case" list reportedly were conservative, although it also named 11 liberal groups, including Progressives United, Progress Texas, and Delawareans for Social and Economic Justice.

The IRS apparently categorized the groups as engaging in activities such as lobbying and "propaganda" that could have barred them from tax-exempt status, even though the word "propaganda" doesn’t appear in section 501(c)(4) of the tax code as a disqualifier for the social-welfare status for which most tea party groups were applying.

"There would be no reason I would think to flag them if it’s for a 501(c)(4) status," John Columbo, a law professor at the University of Illinois, told USA today.

Sekulow, of the American Center for Law and Justice, also asserted in an op-ed piece on Tuesday that the newly discovered emails from Lerner are highly damaging to the IRS.

Citing excerpts from emails dated Feb. 1, 2011, and July 10, 2012, Sekulow wrote, "Though short, these emails tell us three key things: First Lois Lerner unquestionably misled the public when she stated in her initial apology for IRS targeting that the scandal centered around 'our line people in Cincinnati.'

"Second, key leaders at the IRS are highly partisan," he said, "Third, it’s deeply discouraging to read the extent of Lerner’s hostility to the First Amendment."

"Lois Lerner’s emails are proving our case," Sekulow said. "The IRS is partisan, it’s corrupt, and its leaders don’t tell the truth. And if the media or the Obama administration wont’ hold the IRS accountable, we will."

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