WASHINGTON, D.C., May 13, 2013 (LifeSiteNews) – IRS officials have confessed to unfairly targeting the applications of conservative would-be non-profits for extra scrutiny, searching applications for terms like “Tea Party,” “patriots,” and “Constitutional rights” and flagging such files for further, intrusive review.
At a Friday afternoon press conference, Lois Lerner, Director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations, admitted IRS agents “selected cases simply because the applications had [conservative] names in the title.” At least 100 groups were targeted, including Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project. Search terms that triggered investigations included “government spending,” “government debt,” “taxes,” “how the country is being run,” and making “America a better place to live.”
Lerner apologized, saying, “That was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, insensitive, and inappropriate — that’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review. We don’t select for review because they have a particular name.”
Lerner also revealed agents asked questions of conservative applicants that went beyond the scope of the normal application process. “[The IRS] sent some letters out that were far too broad, asking questions of these organizations that weren’t really necessary for the type of application,” Lerner said.
“In some cases you probably read that they asked for contributor names,” added Lerner. “That’s not appropriate, not usual, there are some very limited times when we might need that, but in most of these cases where they were asked they didn’t do it correctly and they didn’t do it with a higher level of review.”
Some of the unusual questions asked included:
· “Have you attempted or will you attempt to influence the outcome of specific legislation? If so, provide the following … all communications, pamphlets, advertisements, and other materials.”
· “Have you conducted or will you conduct candidate forums? If so, provide the following details… The issues that were discussed. Copies of all handouts provided.”
· “[Provide t]he names of persons from your organization and the amount of time they will spend on the event. Indicate the name and amount of compensation that will be paid to each person.”
· “[Provide a]ll copies of your corporate minutes from inception.”
· “Please identify your volunteers.”
· “[Provide t]he names of donors, contributors, and grantors.”
· “Do you encourage eligible voters to educate themselves, register to vote, and vote? Explain in detail how you do this.”
Lerner denied that the motivation for the aggressive scrutiny of conservative applicants had anything to do with politics, despite the fact that left-leaning groups were not similarly targeted. She claimed it was instead the result of a small group of Cincinnati-based agents trying to “centralize” their investigations in response to a surge in the number of applications for 501(c)4 tax-exempt status by conservative groups.
But the heads of the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee expressed doubts that the apparent harassment was non-partisan in nature. Both promised to launch investigations.
“The fact is if you’re doing something and it’s wrong, it’s illegal, it’s the kind of thing that scares the American people to their core,” Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) said on Meet the Press on Sunday. “When Americans are being targeted for audits based on their political beliefs, that needs to change.”
Added Issa, “The bottom line is they used key words to go after conservatives. There’s got to be accountability for people who are telling lies.”
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-TX), whose committee oversees the IRS, said he will hold a hearing. “The IRS absolutely must be non-partisan in its enforcement of our tax laws,” Camp said.
Republicans were not alone in calling for investigations into the IRS’s wrongdoing. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who chairs the Senate Finance committee, released a statement Monday calling the IRS actions “an outrageous abuse of power and a breach of the Public’s trust.” Warned the senator: “[T]he IRS should be prepared for a full investigation into this matter by the Senate Finance Committee.”
“The IRS will now be the ones put under additional scrutiny,” added Baucus.
On CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine expressed her dismay that President Obama did not immediately acknowledge the scandal. “It is absolutely chilling that the IRS was singling out conservative groups for extra review, and I think it’s very disappointing that the president hasn’t personally condemned this and spoken out,” said the senator.
On Monday, President Obama did address the accusations during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Obama claimed he was unaware of the IRS’s inappropriate actions before Friday, and said he learned of the situation from “the same news reports that I think most people” did.
Obama told reporters that if the allegations are true, “People have to be held accountable.”
Said the president, “If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it.”
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) pointed out that IRS officials themselves admitted to targeting conservatives. “The conclusion that the IRS came to is that they did have agents who were engaged in intimidation of political groups,” Rogers told 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. It needs to have a full investigation.”
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) called for the firing of those found to be involved. Warner released a statement on his Facebook page Monday saying, “These appalling actions by the IRS are completely unacceptable. We need a quick but thorough investigation, and those who are found to have been responsible for this betrayal of the public trust should be fired.”
Ms. Lerner has been evasive about any potential disciplinary action for the agents responsible. During a Friday afternoon conference call with reporters, she first said no action had been taken, then retracted that and said she meant to say she wouldn’t comment.
Political observers from both parties have noted the seriousness of Ms. Lerner’s admissions.
“Politicizing the IRS was one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon,” Doug Schoen, a pollster for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, told The Washington Post. While Schoen said he thinks “we are still a very long way from that point,” he noted “the allegations are very, very serious.” He said it was “simply impossible to believe that it was just Lois Lerner and some low-level employees in Cincinnati who came up with this scheme to systematically focus on Tea Party and ‘patriot’ groups.”
In fact, the Cincinnati office accused of unfairly targeting conservative groups has had sole oversight over the nation’s entire tax-exemption application process for the last ten years.
Judson Phillips, owner of the Tea Party Nation website, told LifeSiteNews in a phone interview that this sort of abuse by the IRS, particularly during Democratic administrations, is nothing new. He said it was a main reason he set his website up as a for-profit venture – not to make large amounts of money, but to avoid the kind of government harassment that often comes along with tax-exempt status.
“The problem with this IRS scandal is the problem that has existed with the IRS for a long time,” Phillips wrote in a blog entry. “It is an incredibly powerful tool that an administration can use against its enemies.”
“In the 90’s, you were not considered a real conservative opponent of Bill Clinton if you were not audited,” said Phillips. “Lyndon Johnson was famous for inflicting the IRS on his enemies.”
Phillips told LifeSiteNews that while he believes President Obama probably didn’t have firsthand knowledge of what was happening at the IRS, senior officials almost certainly did.
“In a sane world, there are a bunch of IRS employees who would have walked into a meeting this morning and immediately been told they’re fired,” said Phillips. But he expressed skepticism that anyone will actually be disciplined.
“Realistically? I don’t think they’ll fire anybody,” Phillips said. “I don’t think there’ll be any accountability at all. No action will be taken. I’ll make that prediction right now.” Phillips pointed to firings promised after the Benghazi scandal that never materialized. Instead, one person was moved elsewhere in the State Department and the others simply kept their jobs. He said that although the order to harass the president’s potential political opponents may not have come from the White House itself, he believes the Administration certainly approved of the Cincinnati office’s efforts.
In an interview with WorldNetDaily, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), a former tax attorney, said she believes the blame for the IRS’s misdeeds ultimately does rest with the Obama administration. Bachmann said she thinks Obama used “the federal agency feared most by Americans to intimidate conservative and tea party organizations during an election year.”
Bachmann also pointed out the dangers inherent in giving an apparently corrupt agency broad control over the enforcement of the nation’s new health care laws. Because the IRS also is the chief enforcer of ObamaCare’s requirements, Bachmann told WND she thinks it is now “reasonable” to wonder whether the agency “will deny or delay access to health care” for conservatives.
“We learned that during an election, [Obama] interfered with the First Amendment rights of conservatives and tea party members by intimidating and harassing these organizations,” said Bachmann.
“It now is an entirely reasonable question for the American people to ask,” she said. "Will Obamacare be so politicized and misused?”