Tags: irs | audit | conservatives | tea | party | taxes

IRS Targeting of Conservative Groups Expanded Far Beyond Tea Party

Image: IRS Targeting of Conservative Groups Expanded Far Beyond Tea Party Sen. Susan Collins

By Greg Richter   |   Monday, 13 May 2013 06:59 AM

The IRS's singling out of groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in their names is just part of the story. Agents also sought additional information from groups that were critical of government spending, the debt, taxes and those that seek to "make America a better place to live," according to an audit by the IRS inspector general.

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The tax-collecting agency issued an apology and admitted on Friday that low-level agents in its Cincinnati office were responsible for placing additional burdens on conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Such groups can receive 501(c)(4) status if they engage in some political activity, but their primary focus must be promoting social welfare.

But some critics have expressed doubt that only low-level employees were involved. An investigation has uncovered that then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman was aware of the problem a year before he testified to Congress in 2012 that no targeting of conservative groups was taking place.

The agency isn't finding defenders. The White House and prominent Democrats alike have condemned the practice.

"Somebody made the decision that they would give extra scrutiny to this particular group. And I think we have to understand why," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Sunday on "Meet the Press."

The documents, reviewed by both The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, show that IRS staffers briefed senior agency official Lois G. Lerner on June 29, 2011. They told Lerner of instances where extra attention was given where “statements in the case file criticize how the country is being run.”

Lerner objected and the criteria was changed a week later.

But on Jan. 15, 2012 the agency began targeting “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement.”

A more neutral test was not adopted until May 17, 2012, The Post reports.

The IRS came under withering attack from GOP lawmakers Sunday. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican, described the practice as “absolutely chilling” and called on President Obama to condemn the effort.

"This is something we cannot let stand. It needs to have a full investigation," House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said on "Fox News Sunday."

"I don't care if you're a conservative, a liberal a Democrat or a Republican, this should send a chill up your spine," Rogers added.

Collins said she also doubted the IRS's claim that the groups were targeted as part of an "inappropriate" organizing technique by a few bureaucrats in the agency's tax-exempt section, rather than for political reasons.

"I just don't buy that this was a couple of rogue IRS employees. After all, groups with "progressive" in their names were not targeted similarly," Collins said.

"If it had been just a small group of employees, then you would think that the high-level IRS supervisors would have rushed to make this public, fire the employees involved and apologized to the American people and informed Congress," she said.

Rep. Rogers said an outside investigation was needed to get to the root of the matter, referring to IRS statements last year that no groups had been targeted for additional scrutiny.

"I don't know where it stops or who's involved ... (The investigation) has to be external. It's clearly shown that they can't do it themselves. And I think Congress needs to have that oversight," Rogers said.

The Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration is to release a report on its investigation into the issue within a few days.

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Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, has vowed to investigate, and the House Oversight and Government Reform committee he chairs has the power to issue subpoenas.

In an exclusive, the Associated Press revealed on Saturday that a federal watchdog's upcoming report will say that senior Internal Revenue Service officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as far back as 2011.

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