If the tea party and other conservative groups had been fully active in the critical months leading up to the 2012 election, would Mitt Romney be president today? The public will, of course, never know for certain.
Thanks to Judicial Watch, however, the American people do now know the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeted right-leaning organizations applying for tax-exempt status and prevented them from having their voice heard during that period.
In May 2013, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) released an audit report confirming the IRS used “inappropriate” criteria to identify tea party groups and other conservative organizations opposed to the Obama administration’s policy agenda.
In May 2014, Lois Lerner, former director of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Unit, was held in contempt of Congress after refusing to testify at a congressional hearing about these actions. Despite the contempt charge, and substantial evidence that Lerner violated federal regulations in using the IRS as a weapon to bludgeon conservative groups, however, the Department of Justice recently announced she would not be charged with any wrongdoing.
Judicial Watch, however, has not been satisfied with the DOJ’s half-hearted attempts at accountability. The organization recently filed yet another Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit
against the IRS, this time seeking “any and all records” related to the selection of individuals and organizations for audits based upon applications filed requesting nonprofit tax status.
The lawsuit was filed after the IRS failed to comply with two FOIA requests submitted on Oct. 10, 2014.
The first sought any and all records concerning, regarding or relating to the selection of individuals for IRS audits based on information submitted in organizations’ applications for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, 501(c)(4) donor lists, or IRS Form 990s.
The second request sought any and all records concerning, regarding, or related to the selection of 501(c)(4) tax-exemption organizations for IRS audits based on information submitted in applications for tax-exempt status or IRS Form 990s.
After the request was filed, Judicial Watch had to fight with Obama administration bureaucrats to obtain these documents.
In a letter dated Nov. 14, 2014, the IRS advised Judicial Watch that it had “extended the statutory response date to Dec. 2, 2014.” The letter then informed us that the IRS “will still be unable to locate and consider release of the requested records by December 2, 2014.”
Put another way, Good luck getting those records. Next, the IRS informed Judicial Watch that it was extending its response dates in both FOIA requests to late February, advising that if Judicial Watch was dissatisfied, “you may file suit.”
In their lawsuit, Judicial Watch is asking the courts to order the IRS to do the following:
- Conduct a search for any and all records responsive to (Judicial Watch’s) FOIA requests.
- Produce, by a certain date, any and all nonexempt records responsive to (Judicial Watch’s) FOIA requests and a Vaughn index of any responsive records withheld under claim of exemption.
- Enjoin the [RS from continuing to withhold any and all non-exempt records responsive to the plaintiff’s FOIA requests.
In September 2014, a separate FOIA lawsuit forced the release of documents showing the IRS sought, obtained and maintained the names of donors to tea party and other conservative groups. IRS officials acknowledged in these documents that “such information was not needed,” but the documents also show donor names were being used for a “secret research project.”
The House Ways and Means Committee announced at a May 2014 hearing that, after scores of conservative groups provided donor information “to the IRS, nearly one in ten donors were subject to audit.”
In February 2014, then-Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee Dave Camp, R-Mich., detailed
improper IRS targeting of conservative groups: "Additionally, we now know that the IRS targeted not only right-leaning applicants, but also right-leaning groups that were already operating as 501(c)(4)s.
"At Washington, D.C.’s direction, dozens of groups operating as 501(c)(4)s were flagged for IRS surveillance, including monitoring of the groups’ activities, websites, and any other publicly available information. Of these groups, 83 percent were right-leaning. And of the groups the IRS selected for audit, 100 percent were right-leaning."
This targeting of donors and other right-leaning groups is intriguing in light of a new Lerner email
Judicial Watch just released.
The email discloses that the IRS audited tax-exempt political groups using a separate investigation arm (under Lerner’s control), the Review of Operations Unit. Lerner wrote: "Also, we often use the ROO [Review of Operations Unit] to do initial research. Before starting audits — they don’t touch taxpayers, but can look at publicly available info about orgs."
These documents should dispel any remaining doubt that the Obama administration used tea party applications to do opposition research on individual citizens and groups opposed to President Obama’s policies.
Tom Fitton is the president of Judicial Watch. He is a nationally recognized expert on government corruption. A former talk radio and television host and analyst, Tom is well known across the country as a national spokesperson for the conservative cause. He has been quoted in Time, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and most every other major newspaper in the country. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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