The Internal Revenue Service admitted Friday to improperly targeting conservative groups for aggressive applications processes for tax exempt status in 2012, using the terms “Tea Party” and “patriot” as flags. Here are some of the things they wanted to know about those groups.
1. We’re gonna need all your direct and indirect communication. “‘Direct and indirect communications’ is profoundly chilling of First Amendment rights, ” said David French, senior counsel for American Center for Law & Justice, which has been representing 27 conservative organizations met with IRS inquisitions. “It’s so vague as to be impossible to comply with.”
2. What do we need to know about your members? Nothing much. Just ALL THE THINGS!
3. Your present and past employees and their relationships, please.
4. No, family members of past and present board members and employees are not exempt, nor are their activities with other groups. Why do you ask?
5. If someone in this country’s free press has ever interacted with you in any way shape or form about your free speech activities, we’re going to need documentation of that.
6. By the way, all the insane, intrusive information we’re asking for is understood to be public once you’ve given it to us, so please include only the most flattering possible photos of your children and pets.
7. There are very specific requirements for completing and submitting this insane, intrusive information we’re asking for. Does it feel like you’re running hurdles yet, Lolo?
8. Don’t forget to read the continued very specific requirements for completing and submitting this insane, intrusive information.
9. If you do not comply with these very specific requirements for completing and submitting this insane, intrusive application, you will go directly back to Start, you will not pass Go, and let’s face it, we will probably collect $200.
10. Please predict the future reliably. Thank you for your time.
All of the examples above are taken from actual IRS correspondence received by ACLJ’s 27 clients. There were many versions of the in-depth questionnaire sent to different organizations, suggesting there was more than one agent or one office involved. Though IRS officials blamed “low-level” employees in the Cincinnati office, which is the central IRS office in charge of tax exemptions, French said the abuse was far more widespread. ACLJ’s clients dealt with inquiries from IRS offices from “coast to coast.” Of ACLJ’s 27 clients, 15 finally had their status approved after 6-7 months with legal help. There are 12 groups whose status remains in limbo.
Update: I meant to add that a 2011 letter from Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Jim Jordan laid out 16 areas of the Tea Party questionnaires that seemed to overreach. Here they are.
Today’s big news story was the IRS’s admission that it had targeted conservative organizations – specifically, Tea Party groups – for audits. Not to be overlooked is the further admission that the IRS improperly demanded donor lists from some of these organizations, presumably so that conservative donors, too, could be harassed.
This is a shocking news story – one that would be a major scandal in a Republican administration – but it is not the first time the Obama administration has abused the IRS. In August 2010, Austin Goolsbee, who directed Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and later chaired his Council of Economic Advisers, gave a press briefing in which he discussed corporate income taxes. In that briefing, he suggested that he had access to confidential IRS data, and falsely accused the administration’s beta noire, Koch Industries, of not paying corporate income taxes:
So in this country we have partnerships, we have S corps, we have LLCs, we have a series of entities that do not pay corporate income tax. Some of which are really giant firms, you know Koch Industries is a multibillion dollar businesses. So that creates a narrower base because we’ve literally got something like 50 percent of the business income in the U.S. is going to businesses that don’t pay any corporate income tax.
How would an Obama administration official have access to records showing how much a particular company pays in taxes? Unless the administration has some good explanation, such access would be illegal. As it happens, the claim that Koch doesn’t pay taxes (much like the equally absurd assertion that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes) is false. But that doesn’t excuse the Obama administration for misrepresenting confidential tax information to smear a political enemy.
After Goolsbee’s smear became public, Koch asked whether its tax returns had been improperly accessed by members of the Obama administration. As always, the administration stonewalled and refused to answer. The administration’s experience has been that it can endlessly abuse its powers, break the law with impunity, and if caught, brazen it out. Thus, in the absence of an independent mass news media, are habits developed which culminate in the scandals in which the administration is now engulfed.
UPDATE: Also, let’s not forget Obama’s joke, during the first days of his presidency, in a speech at Arizona State University:
I really thought this was much ado about nothing, but I do think we all learned an important lesson. I learned never again to pick another team over the Sun Devils in my NCAA brackets… President [Michael] Crowe and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS.
At the time, most people thought he was kidding. But as Glenn Reynolds pointed out at the time, jokes about presidential abuse of power are not funny when they come from the president. With hindsight, more attention should have been paid.
The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight has thrown down an investigative gauntlet to the Internal Revenue Service, demanding that the agency hand over by next Wednesday every communication in its records that includes the words “tea party,” “patriot” or “conservative.”
The committee is also demanding of the IRS that by next Wednesday it provide the committee with the names and titles of all individuals who were involved in targeting conservative non-profit groups for more intensive review of their applications for non-profit status.
The request follows a report from the Associated Press that Lois Lerner, director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, said at an American Bar Association conference that the IRS had targeted for special review applications of non-profit groups that included the words “tea party” or “patriot.”
“That was wrong,” the AP quoted Lerner as saying. “That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review.”
“The IRS would like to apologize for that,” Lerner said.
Lerner’s statement at the ABA conference, however, seems to contradict testimony that then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman made in the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight on March 22, 2012.
At that hearing, Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R.-La.) specifically asked Shulman about allegations that the IRS had been targeting Tea Party groups.
“I’ve gotten a number of letters,” Boustany said at that hearing. “Just recently, we’ve seen some recent press allegations that the IRS is targeting certain Tea Party groups across the country requesting what have been described as owner’s document requests, delaying approval for tax-exempt status, and that kind of thing. Can you elaborate on what’s going on with that? I mean, can you give us assurances that the IRS is not targeting particular groups based on political leanings?”
“Yes,” said Shulman. “No, thanks for bringing this up, because I think there’s been a lot of press about this and a lot of moving information. So, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify. First, let me start by saying, yes, I can give you assurances.”
“And so, what’s been happening has been the normal back-and-forth that happens with the IRS,” Shulman testified. “None of the alleged taxpayers and obviously, I can’t talk about individual taxpayers, and I’m not involved in these, are in examination process. They’re in an application process which they moved into, voluntarily. And so, there’s absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back-and-forth that happens when people apply for 501(c)(4) status.”
Shulman was nominated as IRS commissioner by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate on March 14, 2008. He left the position on Nov. 9, 2012, and was replaced by acting Commissioner Steve Miller.
After the Associated Press story about Lerner’s statement to the IRS broke on Friday, Chairman Boustany sent a letter to IRS Acting Commissioner Miller pointing out that the Ways and Means Committee had been investigating this matter for more than a year, citing Lerner’s “apology” at the ABA conference, and demanding that the IRS produce certain communications and names by next Wednesday.
“As you know, for more than a year, the Committee on the Ways and Means has been pursuing an active investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups seeking tax exempt status,” Boustany wrote. “To help the committee fully understand the extent of the agency’s practices, provide the following information by no later than Wednesday, May 15, 2013: 1) Provide all communications containing the words ‘tea party’ ‘patriot’ or ‘conservative.’ 2) Provide names and titles of all individuals involved in this discrimination.”
As reported by the Associated Press, Lerner told the ABA conference that the targeting of groups that included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications had been started by low-level IRS workers in Cincinnati. The AP said that after her talk Lerner told the news agency that high level IRS officials had not known about this targeting.
Back on March 23, 2010, the day after Shulman testified, Mark Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, wrote to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration calling for an investigation of IRS misconduct in its treatment of Tea Party organizations.
“Recent media reports indicate that the EO Division is using inappropriate and intimidating investigation tactics in the administration of applications for exempt status submitted by organizations associated with the Tea Party movement,” Levin wrote to the IG.
“Landmark Legal Foundation respectfully requests an immediate and thorough investigation to determine whether IRS employees are acting improperly in the evaluation of exempt status applications,” wrote Levin. “This investigation also must determine whether the relevant IRS employees are acting at the direction of politically motivated superiors.”
Three months after Landmark Legal requested the IG investigation, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) and Oversight Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs Chairman Jim Jordan (R.-Ohio) sent a letter to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration also requesting an investigation.
Today, Issa released a July 11, 2012 letter from the inspector general stating that his office “recently began work on the issue.” An IG audit is currently underway.
On Friday afternoon, CNSNews.com asked the IRS if it intended to comply with the Ways and Means Committee’s request for the names and titles of people involved in discriminating against Tea Party or conservative organizations and all communications containing the words “tea party” “patriot” or “conservative.” A spokesman said he would check. As this story was posted – only a little more than an hour after the question was first posed – the IRS had not yet responded.