The IRS Conservative Targeting Scandal involved:
There is NO EVIDENCE that a single liberal group went through the same scrutiny as conservative groups.
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The House Oversight Committee released this DAMNING REPORT this morning:
On May 12, 2013, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) released a report that found that the Exempt Organizations (EO) division of the IRS inappropriately targeted “Tea Party” and other conservative applicants for tax-exempt status and subjected them to heightened scrutiny.3 This additional scrutiny resulted in extended delays that, in most cases, sidelined applicants during the 2012 election cycle, in spite of their Constitutional right to participate. Meanwhile, the majority of liberal and left-leaning 501(c)(4) applicants won approval.4
Documents and information obtained by the Committee since the release of the TIGTA report show that Lois G. Lerner, the now-retired Director of IRS Exempt Organizations (EO), was extensively involved in targeting conservative-oriented tax-exempt applicants for inappropriate scrutiny. This report details her role in the targeting of conservative-oriented organizations, which would later result in some level of increased scrutiny of applicants from across the political spectrum. It also outlines her obstruction of the Committee’s investigation.
Prior to joining the IRS, Lerner was the Associate General Counsel and Head of the Enforcement Office at the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).5 During her tenure at the FEC, she also engaged in questionable tactics to target conservative groups seeking to expand their political involvement, often subjecting them to heightened scrutiny.6 Her political ideology was evident to her FEC colleagues. She brazenly subjected Republican groups to rigorous investigations. Similar Democratic groups did not receive the same scrutiny.7
The Committee’s investigation of Lerner’s role in the IRS’s targeting of tax-exempt organizations found that she led efforts to scrutinize conservative groups while working to maintain a veneer of objective enforcement. Following the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the IRS faced pressure from voices on the left to heighten scrutiny of applicants for tax-exempt status. IRS EO employees in Cincinnati identified the first Tea Party applicants and promptly forwarded these applications to IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C. for further guidance. Officials in Washington, D.C. directed IRS employees in Cincinnati to isolate Tea Party applicants even though the IRS had not developed a process for approving their applications.
While IRS employees were screening applications, documents show that Lerner and other senior officials contemplated concerns about the “hugely influential Koch brothers,” and that Lerner advised her IRS colleagues that her unit should “do a c4 project next year” focusing on existing organizations.8 Lerner even showed her recognition that such an effort would approach dangerous ground and would have to be engineered as not a “per se political project.”9 Underscoring a political bias against the lawful activity of such groups, Lerner referenced the political pressure on the IRS to “fix the problem” of 501(c)(4) groups engaging in political speech at an event sponsored by Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.10
Lerner not only proposed ways for the IRS to scrutinize groups with 501(c)(4) status, but also helped implement and manage hurdles that hindered and delayed the approval of groups applying for 501(c)(4) status. In early 2011, Lerner directed the manager of the IRS’s EO Technical Unit to subject Tea Party cases to a “multi-tier review” system.11 She characterized these Tea Party cases as “very dangerous,” and believed that the Chief Counsel’s office should “be in on” the review process.12 Lerner was extensively involved in handling the Tea Party cases—from directing the review process to receiving periodic status updates.13 Other IRS employees would later testify that the level of scrutiny Lerner ordered for the Tea Party cases was unprecedented.14
Eventually, Lerner became uncomfortable with the burgeoning number of conservative organizations facing immensely heightened scrutiny from a purportedly apolitical agency. Consistent with her past concerns that scrutiny could not be “per se political,” she ordered the implementation of a new screening method. Without doing anything to inform applicants that they had been subject to inappropriate treatment, this sleight of hand added a level of deniability for the IRS that officials would eventually use to dismiss accusations of political motivations – she broadened the spectrum of groups that would be scrutinized going forward.
When Congress asked Lerner about a shift in criteria, she flatly denied it along with allegations about disparate treatment.15 Even as targeting continued, Lerner engaged in a surreptitious discussion about an “off-plan” effort to restrict the right of existing 501(c)(4) applicants to participate in the political process through new regulations made outside established protocols for disclosing new regulatory action.16 E-mails obtained by the Committee show she and other seemingly like-minded IRS employees even discussed how, if an aggrieved Tea Party applicant were to file suit, the IRS might get the chance to showcase the scrutiny it had applied to conservative applicants.17 IRS officials seemed to envision a potential lawsuit as an expedient vehicle for bypassing federal laws that protect the anonymity of applicants denied tax exempt status.18 Lerner surmised that Tea Party groups would indeed opt for litigation because, in her mind, they were “itching for a Constitutional challenge.”19
Through e-mails, documents, and the testimony of other IRS officials, the Committee has learned a great deal about Lois Lerner’s role in the IRS targeting scandal since the Committee first issued a subpoena for her testimony. She was keenly aware of acute political pressure to crack down on conservative-leaning organizations. Not only did she seek to convey her agreement with this sentiment publicly, she went so far as to engage in a wholly inappropriate effort to circumvent federal prohibitions in order to publicize her efforts to crack down on a particular Tea Party applicant. She created unprecedented roadblocks for Tea Party organizations, worked surreptitiously to advance new Obama Administration regulations that curtail the activities of existing 501(c)(4) organizations – all the while attempting to maintain an appearance that her efforts did not appear, in her own words, “per se political.”
Lerner’s testimony remains critical to the Committee’s investigation. E-mails dated shortly before the public disclosure of the targeting scandal show Lerner engaging with higher ranking officials behind the scenes in an attempt to spin the imminent release of the TIGTA report.20 Documents and testimony provided by the IRS point to her as the instigator of the IRS’s efforts to crack down on 501(c)(4) organizations and the singularly most relevant official in the IRS targeting scandal. Her unwillingness to testify deprives Congress the opportunity to have her explain her conduct, hear her response to personal criticisms levied by her IRS coworkers, and provide vital context regarding the actions of other IRS officials. In a recent interview, President Obama broadly asserted that there is not even a “smidgeon of corruption” in the IRS targeting scandal.21 15 Briefing by IRS staff to Committee staff (Feb. 24, 2012); see Letter from Darrell Issa & Jim Jordan, H. Comm. on Oversight & Gov’t Reform, to Lois Lerner, IRS (May 14, 2013).
If this is true, Lois Lerner should be willing to return to Congress to testify about her actions. The public needs a full accounting of what occurred and who was involved. Through its investigation, the Committee seeks to ensure that government officials are never in a position to abuse the public trust by depriving Americans of their Constitutional right to participate in our democracy, regardless of their political beliefs. This is the only way to restore confidence in the IRS.