Conservative groups rejected the IRS’ apology for singling them out and unjustifiably scrutinizing their tax-exempt status during the 2012 election cycle. The apology spurred calls for an investigation and seemed to validate conservatives’ fears of politically motivated regulation.
House Republican leaders have vowed to investigate the incident. Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS unit that oversees tax-exempt organizations, revealed on Friday that some organizations were given additional scrutiny if their tax-exempt applications included words like “Tea Party” or “patriot.”
An Associated Press report explained that the practice began by “low-level” employees of the branch in Cincinnati. Lerner called a press conference about the situation on Friday, saying the actions of these employees were “absolutely inappropriate.” He added, “They didn’t do it because of any political bias.”
Rather, Lerner explained that it was a very poorly thought-out organizational “shortcut.” He further explained:
“It was an error in judgement and it wasn’t appropriate but that’s what they did … We’ve now corrected these issues, and we don’t expect that any of these will be repeated going forward.”
But the apology didn’t appease conservative groups the IRS targeted. Representative Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the IRS, announced that he will hold a hearing on the situation. He added, “The IRS absolutely must be non-partisan in its enforcement of our tax laws.”
Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat, agreed. Levin chairs the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He stated that his panel has been looking into the Internal Revenue Service’s “failure” to enforce a law requiring tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups to be engaged exclusively in social welfare activities and not partisan politics.
Levin added that the latest development “raises a second issue: whether the IRS, to the extent it has enforced its rules, has been impartial in doing so. Both issues require investigation.” IRS civil servants routinely review tax-exempt applications for groups ranging from charities to labor unions.
None of the conservative groups subjected to additional IRS scrutiny were rejected yet for tax-exempt status. Because of this, a legal damages claim against the IRS is unlikely.
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