IRS Apologizes For Targeting Tea Party Groups

An IRS official today formally apologized for singling out Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny and added that it won’t happen again.

Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service official who oversees the handling of applications for tax-exempt status, admitted that so-called low level workers on their own flagged any organization that contained “tea party” or “patriot” in their paperwork. At least 75 applications were affected in this way, perhaps more.

Lerner made this admission today at an American Bar Association conference: “That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review. The IRS would like to apologize for that.”

She also noted that IRS workers inappropriately asked for donor lists from these right-of-center groups. Lerner denied these practices — which were initiated by IRS staffers in the Cincinnati office where the agency centralized the review of groups seeking 501(c)(4) tax exempt status — were motivate by political bias.

In a statement the IRS similarly admitted that “mistakes were made initially, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan rationale.”

Overall about 300 applications were flagged for review.

Many of the Tea Party groups apparently eventually received their tax-exempt status or are on their way to securing same.

Tax-exempt groups, regardless of where they fit on the ideological spectrum, can engage in political activities to some degree. “Some groups classified as tax-exempt charities are allowed to carry out political activities as long as it’s not their primary focus, though the law is a bit murky on what constitutes too much pure election activity.”

GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on down are calling for an investigation into what what happened. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R – Utah), who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, referred to the scrutiny as “Nixonian” and said that “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.”

The American Center for Law and Justice represented many of these groups when they ran into IRS roadblocks. The ACLJ claims that the IRS made “intrusive demands” for information from Tea Party affiliates and/or the groups waited nearly two years in some instances for the IRS to respond to their applications for tax-exempt status. “Once we informed the IRS of our representation of these groups, within days of our taking action we began to receive a high level of cooperation from the agency with regard to these organizations’ files.”

Jenny Beth Martin, a Tea Party leader, was not thrilled with the IRS apology and echoed calls for an investigation. “This deliberate targeting and harassment of tea party groups reaches a new low in illegal government activity and overreach.”

On the other side of the aisle from the Tea Party, an ACLU official nevertheless noted that “Even the appearance of playing partisan politics with the tax code is about as constitutionally troubling as it gets.”

The IRS wouldn’t comment about the possibility of disciplinary action for the workers involved.

During a conference call today, “A skeptical press corps peppered Lerner with questions, many of which she and her staff were unable or unwilling to answer.” On the call, Lerner also conceded that “I’m not good at math,” an admission that exploded on Twitter.

This actually just happened: IRS administrator says: “I’m not good at math.”

— Byron Tau (@ByronTau) May 10, 2013

Do you accept the IRS premise that no political motivation was involved in the extra review of Tea Party tax-exempt applications?

[Image via Andrew F. Kazmierski / Shutterstock.com]