10 Questions That the IRS Asked Tea Party Groups
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
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IRS Goes Gestapo, Backtracks With Apologizes
Posted by ilona trommler
By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Douglas Shulman testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the House Oversight Committee. The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Friday, May, 10, 2013. Carney responded on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, calling on top-to-bottom review of the Obama administration after the IRS admitted that it had targeted conservative groups during the 2012 election. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
ASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was "inappropriate" targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.
IRS agents singled out dozens of organizations for additional reviews because they included the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their exemption applications, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for lists of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.
The agency — led at the time by a Bush administration appointee — blamed low-level employees, saying no high-level officials were aware. But that wasn't good enough for Republicans in Congress, who are conducting several investigations and asked for more.
"I call on the White House to conduct a transparent, government-wide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not under way at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
White House spokesman Jay Carney declared it was indeed inappropriate for the IRS to target tea party groups. But he brushed aside questions about whether the White House itself would investigate.
Instead, Carney said the administration expects a thorough investigation by the Treasury Department's inspector general for tax administration. The inspector general has been looking into the issue since last summer, and his report is expected to come out next week, the IG's office said Friday.
Carney said he did not know when the White House first learned that tea party groups were being targeted.
Lerner acknowledged it was wrong for the agency to target groups based on political affiliation.
"That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That's not how we go about selecting cases for further review," Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association.
"The IRS would like to apologize for that," she added.
Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. Agency officials found out about the practice last year and moved to correct it, the IRS said in a statement. The statement did not specify when officials found out.
About 75 groups were inappropriately targeted. None had their tax-exempt status revoked, Lerner said.
The IRS is an independent agency within the Treasury Department that enforces the nation's tax laws. Revelations that the agency was targeting political groups because they were affiliated with a movement that is critical of President Barack Obama could become a new headache for the White House.
"The admission by the Obama administration that the Internal Revenue Service targeted political opponents echoes some of the most shameful abuses of government power in 20th century American history," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Many conservative groups complained during the campaign that they were being harassed by the IRS. They accused the agency of frustrating their attempts to become tax exempt by sending them lengthy, intrusive questionnaires.
The forms, which the groups have made available, sought information about group members' political activities, including details of their postings on social networking websites and about family members.
IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told Congress in March 2012 that the IRS was not targeting groups based on politics.
"There's absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people" who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman told a House Ways and Means subcommittee.
The IRS said senior leaders were not aware that specific groups were being targeted at the time of the hearing.
"While we acknowledged centralization of these applications last year, the IRS did not acknowledge the use of names as part of the process earlier because the details were not initially known to senior leadership and (the inspector general) has been reviewing the situation," the IRS said in a statement. "Their work is now far enough along that it was appropriate to address the issue when it came up during (Friday's) tax conference."
Shulman was appointed by President George W. Bush. His 6-year term ended in November. President Barack Obama has yet to nominate a successor. The agency is now being run by acting Commissioner Steven Miller.
Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., chairman of the Ways and Means oversight subcommittee, requested a trove of documents from the IRS on Friday, including all communications containing the words "tea party" and "patriot."
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said Friday he will hold a hearing on the matter has not yet set a date.
"The IRS absolutely must be non-partisan in its enforcement of our tax laws," Camp said. "We will hold the IRS accountable for its actions."
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have also promised investigations.
Treasury spokesman Anthony Coley said the department will support the inspector general's investigation.
"The Treasury Department expects all individuals and organizations to be treated fairly by the IRS. Anything less is inappropriate and unacceptable."
There has been a surge of politically active groups claiming tax-exempt status in recent elections — conservative and liberal. Among the highest profile are Republican Karl Rove's group, Crossroads GPS, and the liberal Moveon.org.
These groups claim tax-exempt status under section 501 (c) (4) of the federal tax code, which is for social welfare groups. Unlike other charitable groups, these organizations are allowed to participate in political activities but their primary activity must be social welfare.
That determination is up to the IRS.
Lerner said the number of groups filing for this tax-exempt status more than doubled from 2010 to 2012, to more than 3,400. To handle the influx, the IRS centralized its review of these applications in an office in Cincinnati.
Lerner said this was done to develop expertise among staffers and consistency in their reviews. As part of the review, staffers look for signs that groups are participating in political activity. If so, IRS agents take a closer look to make sure that politics isn't the group's primary activity.
As part of this process, agents in Cincinnati came up with a list of things to look for in an application. As part of the list, they included the words, "tea party" and "patriot," Lerner said.
"It's the line people that did it without talking to managers," Lerner told The AP. "They're IRS workers, they're revenue agents."
In all, about 300 groups were singled out for additional review, Lerner said. Of those, about a quarter were singled out because they had "tea party" or "patriot" somewhere in their applications.
The IRS statement said that once applications were chosen for review, they all "received the same, even-handed treatment."
Lerner said 150 of the cases have been closed and no group had its tax-exempt status revoked, though some withdrew their applications.
"Mistakes were made initially, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan rationale," the IRS said in a statement. "We fixed the situation last year and have made significant progress in moving the centralized cases through our system."
"I don't think there's any question we were unfairly targeted," said Tom Zawistowski, who until recently was president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, an alliance of tea party groups in the state.
Zawistowski's group was among many conservative organizations that battled the IRS over what they saw as discriminatory treatment. The group first applied for nonprofit status in June 2009, and it was finally granted on Dec. 7, 2012, he said — one month after Election Day.
"It is suspicious that the activity of these 'low-level workers' was unknown to IRS leadership at the time it occurred," said Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, which describes itself as the nation's largest tea party organization. "President Obama must also apologize for his administration ignoring repeated complaints by these broad grass-roots organizations of harassment by the IRS in 2012, and make concrete and transparent steps today to ensure this never happens again."
Tea Party groups, Republicans slam IRS for flagging conservative groups
Tea Party leaders refused to accept an apology from the IRS Friday in which the agency acknowledged that it inappropriately flagged conservative groups for additional review during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.
Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, said she wants to see resignations over what she called the "disturbing, illegal and outrageous abuse of government power."
Republican lawmakers also seized on the acknowledgment, after having complained about the suspected harassment more than a year ago. Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell called for a "government-wide review" to assure "these thuggish practices" are not in use elsewhere. House Republican Leader Eric Cantor later said the House would investigate.
Reaction was swift and harsh after Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, acknowledged the issue at a conference Friday sponsored by the American Bar Association.
She confirmed that organizations were singled out because they included the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their applications for tax-exempt status.
In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, she said.
"That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate," Lerner said. "The IRS would like to apologize for that."
Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The Associated Press that no high-level IRS officials knew about the practice. She did not say when they found out.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney later said the agency's inspector general was investigating, calling the agents' actions "inappropriate" and saying "there needs to be action taken" if wrongdoing is found.
As conservatives condemned the IRS for the additional scrutiny, IRS officials after the conference tried to offer a fuller explanation of what happened.
The IRS put out a written statement saying protocol was changed at the Cincinnati office in response to the rising number of applications for 501(c)(4) groups. This classification grants tax-exempt status to social welfare groups. Unlike other charitable groups, these organizations are allowed to participate in political activities but their primary activity must be social welfare.
The agents tried to "centralize work" in response to the applications, the IRS said, leading to problems the agency claims have since been fixed.
"Mistakes were made initially, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan rationale. We fixed the situation last year and have made significant progress in moving the centralized cases through our system," the IRS said.
On a hastily arranged conference call Friday, Lerner said that the staffers who flagged those groups did so as "short-hand" to deal with the "great number" of cases in the system.
She acknowledged that some of the letters sent were "far too broad" and that asking for donors is "generally not what we do."
"We made some mistakes, some people didn't use good judgment," she said, while claiming the reviews were not partisan.
During the conference earlier Friday, Lerner said the number of groups filing for the tax-exempt status more than doubled from 2010 to 2012, to more than 3,400. To handle the influx, the IRS centralized its review of these applications in the office in Cincinnati. As part of the review, staffers look for signs that groups are participating in political activity. If so, IRS agents take a closer look to make sure that politics isn't the group's primary activity, Lerner said.
In all, about 300 groups were singled out for additional review, Lerner said. Of those, about a quarter were singled out because they had "tea party" or "patriot" somewhere in their applications. Lerner said 150 of the cases have been closed and no group had its tax-exempt status revoked, though some withdrew their applications.
Many conservative groups complained during the election that they were being harassed by the IRS. They accused the agency of frustrating their attempts to become tax exempt by sending them lengthy, intrusive questionnaires.
The forms, which the groups made available at the time, sought information about group members' political activities, including details of their postings on social networking websites and about family members.
Groups shared some of those forms with FoxNews.com back in February 2012, when the complaints first surfaced. In letters sent from IRS offices in Cincinnati, chapters including the Waco (Texas) Tea Party and the Ohio Liberty Council were asked to provide a list of donors, identify volunteers, financial support for and relationships with political candidates and parties, and even printed copies of their Facebook pages.
"Some of what they (the IRS) asked was reasonable, but there were some requests on there that were strange," Toby Marie Walker, president of the Waco Tea Party, told FoxNews.com last year.
A dozen Republican senators wrote to the IRS in March 2012 expressing concerns about various accounts that the IRS inquiries were "perceived to be excessive."
IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told Congress in March 2012 that the IRS was not targeting groups based on their political views.
"There's absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people" who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman told a House Ways and Means subcommittee.
On Friday, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he's "glad" to see the IRS apologize but said it's not good enough.
"We need to have ironclad guarantees from the IRS that it will adopt significant protocols to ensure this kind of harassment of groups that have a constitutional right to express their own views never happens again," he said, adding that he would be discussing the matter with the IRS commissioner.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said "the fact that Americans were targeted by the IRS because of their political beliefs is unconscionable."
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