Embattled IRS official Lois Lerner and an attorney for the Federal Elections Commissions appear to have colluded against at least one conservative group applying for tax-exempt status, reports the National Review Online.
House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, and oversight-subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany, a Louisiana Republican, are calling on the IRS to release all communications between the agency and the FEC between 2008 and 2012.
"The American public is entitled to know whether the IRS is inappropriately sharing their confidential tax information with other agencies," they wrote in a letter they are reportedly sending to acting IRS administrator Danny Werfel.
Also this week, a report by Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee indicates tea party and other conservative groups were, on average, asked three times as many questions as progressive groups. And conservative groups were less likely to be approved for tax-exempt status and more likely to have their applications delayed, the report said.
"The facts are very clear — not only were conservative groups targeted by the IRS, but they received much higher scrutiny than progressives," Camp said.
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The IRS has been under siege since May when agency officials acknowledged that agents working in a Cincinnati office had improperly targeted tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. Now, correspondence discovered by the House Ways and Means Committee, and obtained by National Review, suggests targeting conservative groups extended beyond the IRS and into the elections commission.
A lawyer from the FEC's enforcement division received tax information about the status of the conservative American Future Fund. The attorney reportedly then recommended the FEC prosecute the group for violations of campaign-finance law.
The timing of the correspondence suggests that the lawyer obtained the information in order to influence the FEC's vote for conservative groups' applying for tax-exempt status, the National Review Online reports.
But in its recommendation, the general counsel's office reportedly did not tell the election agency's six commissioners how it had obtained the information about the group's tax-exempt status. The office is prohibited under law from conducting an investigation into an organization before the commissioners have voted to do so.
As the commission's Feb. 3, 2009 vote approached, the FEC lawyer apparently went back to Lerner for an update, writing: "Could you please tell me whether the IRS has since issued an exemption letter to the American Future Fund?"
In the end, the six FEC commissioners voted six to zero to close the case. Lerner took the Fifth in refusing to testify before a congressional committee in May. She is on paid administrative leave and is seeking full immunity before she testifies.
Still, Camp has pledged to push forward with his investigation of the IRS' targeting of conservative groups.
"We have received less than 3 percent of the documents responsive to the investigation," he said. "So, Congress will continue to investigate how the targeting began, why it was allowed to continue for so long and what the IRS is doing to resolve this. Americans deserve to know the full truth."
The IRS said in a statement that 70 agency lawyers are working full-time to review documents for congressional inquiries.
"The IRS is aggressively responding to the numerous data requests we've received from Congress," IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge said. "We are doing everything we can to fully cooperate with the committees, and we strongly disagree with any suggestions to the contrary."
A report by the IRS inspector general said the agency gave extra scrutiny to 298 groups when they applied for tax exempt status from the spring of 2010 to the spring of 2012.
A total of 104 applications included the labels "conservative," ''tea party," ''patriot" or "9-12" in their names, according to the Ways and Means report, which is consistent with the inspector general's report. Seven included the words "progressive" or "progress."
While processing the applications, IRS agents asked the progressive groups an average of 4.7 questions and eventually approved all seven applications, according to the analysis by Ways and Means Republicans. Some progressive groups, however, complained about lengthy delays.
The conservative groups were asked an average of 14.9 questions and, as of May 31, only 48 applications had been approved. The other 56 applications were either pending or withdrawn. None was denied.
Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said the analysis omits other liberal or progressive groups that don't have the word "progressive" in their names.
"This is a recurring problem in this investigation — the release of incomplete information," Levin said. "Indeed, that is exactly what led to fundamental flaws in the (inspector general's) report."
During the 2010 and 2012 elections, IRS agents singled out groups that had "tea party," ''patriots," and "9-12" in their applications, according to a May report by IRS inspector general J. Russell George. George's report determined that these groups received extra, sometimes burdensome scrutiny that delayed their applications for more than a year.
George's report did not mention progressive groups. He told a congressional committee this month that, despite a year-long inquiry, the IRS just recently provided him documents suggesting that progressive groups may have been targeted.
The IRS was screening the groups' applications because agents were trying to determine their level of political activity. IRS regulations say tax-exempt social welfare organizations may engage in some political activity, but the activity may not be their primary mission. It is up to the IRS to make that determination.
"The inspector general just testified that his audit was based on an incomplete set of documents that was missing key information about progressive groups, and now House Republicans are making the same mistake," said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee. "Rather than conducting a responsible investigation to determine all of the facts, Republicans are desperate to continue making completely unsubstantiated accusations of political motivation."
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