Inspector General Blasts IRS For Conservative Targeting

Agency targeted tea party groups improperly and asked inappropriate questions, audit finds.

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Kevin Lamarque /REUTERS

A tax rebate letter from the Internal Revenue Service.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration strongly criticized the IRS in an audit released late Tuesday into efforts by the agency to target conservative groups for additional scrutiny before awarding tax-exempt status.

The inspector general found that IRS employees inappropriately flagged organizations with “tea party” and “patriots” in their names for reviews that lasted years, and then asked for intrusive information including donor lists and the political activity of organization directors. Tea Party groups had complained of unfair scrutiny in early 2012 though the IRS denied wrongdoing at the time. The audit was undertaken at the request of congressional lawmakers following constituent complaints, and not at the request of the IRS.

According to the audit, IRS officials maintained a “Be On the Look Out ” spreadsheet listing names or phrases that would indicate groups that may be too political to receive  “social welfare” status as 501(c)4’s for additional review. The criteria laid out to the exempt organizations division in June 2011:

  • “Tea Party,” “Patriots” or “9/12 Project” is referenced in the case file
  • Issues include government spending, government debt or taxes
  • Education of the public by advocacy/lobbying to “make America a better place to live”
  • Statement in the case file criticize how the country is being run

According to the audit, more than 300 groups were flagged for additional review by the IRS, of which 72 included the words “tea party” in the name, 11 included the phrase “9/12” and 13 included the word “patriots.”

In early 2012 many of these groups received detailed questionnaires asking for information about their donors and the past and potential future political activities of officials. These were among seven unnecessarily intrusive questions asked, the inspector general reported.

In response to the report, IRS officials maintained that the targeting of group names was not done for political reasons, but just for “efficiency” in flagging suspect groups.

“We believe the front-line career employees that made  the decisions acted out of a desire for efficiency and not out of any political or partisan viewpoint,” said Joseph Grant, the acting commissioner for the IRS tax exempt division, in a letter included in the report.

The House Committee on Ways and Means will hold a hearing on the report on Friday, May 17. Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that he is directing the FBI to investigate whether IRS officials broke any laws by targeting the conservative groups.

The full audit:

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