Did the IRS scandal extend to the targeting of liberal groups too?
The IRS scandal involving inappropriate and likely unconstitutional profiling of Tea Party and other so-called social welfare groups seeking 501(c)(4) non-profit status went on longer than originally announced according to an internal IRS document. The practice supposedly ended in May 2012, but inappropriate screening of some kind apparently continued through this month, according to AP.
The Internal Revenue Service's BOLO (i.e., "be on the lookout for") list -- which was the source of much of this controversy -- that flagged "tea party," "constitution" and "patriot" in the nonprofit paperwork also included terms such as "Israel," "progressive" and "occupy" according to the memo.
Some have seized upon this information in attempt to downplay the scandal. However, there is both more and less to the story in terms of equivalency.
Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel who put an end to the BOLO list practice earlier this month and claims to be streamlining the approval process said that groups across the spectrum were inappropriately flagged. He also added that "We have not found evidence of intentional wrongdoing by anyone in the IRS or involvement in these matters by anyone outside the IRS."
Werfel is also putting into effect a self-certification process according to Reuters. "Werfel's full report also outlines a new fast-track process for tax-exempt, 501(c)(4) applications stalled for more than 120 days, allowing them to 'self-certify' by pledging to not spend more than 40 percent of their activities and expenditures on political activity." The 40 percent threshold is of course subject to interpretation.
Attorney Cleta Mitchell, who is representing several Tea Party groups in lawsuits against the IRS, disagrees that the IRS was an equal opportunity targeter. She said on FNC last night that all of the left-of-center political groups received the green light from the IRS and that no liberal group's application was ever held up for two or three years like the conservative groups were.
Moreover, so far there has been no groundswell from liberal or progressive group complaining that they were subjected to heavy scrutiny during the same time frame of the Tea Party targeting. Nor was any left-of-center group on the receiving end of intrusive questioning that the Tea Party groups now coming forward have complained of.
A spokeswoman for the House Ways and Means Committee said "It is one thing to flag a group, it is quite another to repeatedly target and abuse conservative groups. Tea Party groups were not just on a BOLO they (1) were sent intrusive and inappropriate questions, (2) had their donors threatened with gift taxes and (3) had their confidential information leaked."
According to the American Center for Law and Justice, which is suing the IRS on behalf of 41 Tea Party applicants, "Twelve different groups within the IRS targeted conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt nonprofit status," The Daily Caller reported. The original claim that all the problems in the way the applications got handled were generated by rogue IRS Cincinnati employees has been debunked.
Even with this new information, National Review Online also insists that progressive groups received far quicker handling that their counterparts on the right of the political spectrum. "Whereas screeners were merely alerted that a designation of 501(c)(3) status 'may not be appropriate' for applications containing the word 'progressive' – 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from conducting any political activities -- they were told to send those of tea-party groups off IRS higher-ups for further scrutiny. That means the applications of progressive groups could be approved on the spot by line agents, while those of tea-party groups could not. Furthermore, the November 2010 list noted that tea-party cases were 'currently being coordinated with EOT,' which stands for Exempt Organizations Technical, a group of tax lawyers in Washington, D.C. Those of progressive groups were not."
An IRS employee previously testified before Congress that pro-Israel nonprofit groups were also singled out for special scrutiny and incredibly enough were sent to an "anti-terrorism unit" of all things.
Once again, the allegation of voter suppression has been raised in connection with the IRS intimidation of Tea Party groups. The American Enterprise Institute research paper on the subject concluded in part that "The bottom line is that the Tea Party movement, when properly activated, can generate a huge number of votes -- more votes in 2010, in fact, than the vote advantage Obama held over Romney in 2012... Unfortunately for Republicans, the IRS slowed Tea Party growth before the 2012 election... As a consequence, the founders, members, and donors of new Tea Party groups found themselves incapable of exercising their constitutional rights, and the Tea Party's impact was muted in the 2012 election cycle."
In a report on this controversy, the National Taxpayer Advocate at the IRS offered several recommendations including an "apology payment" of up to $1,000 to a taxpayer where the action or inaction of the IRS caused excessive expense or undue burden, and the taxpayer experienced a "significant hardship."
The IRS is set to gain access the individual healthcare records of Americans when Obamacare goes into full implementation.
Separately, in yet another Inspector General's report on IRS wrongdoing, "Poor oversight by the Internal Revenue Service allowed workers to use agency credit cards to buy wine for an expensive luncheon, dorky swag for managers' meetings and, for one employee, romance novels and diet pills."
What do you think of the idea of so-called apology payments for taxpayers abused by the IRS?
Added: Per The Hill: "Russell George, Treasury's inspector general for tax administration, told Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) in a letter dated Wednesday that the IRS did not use inappropriate criteria to scrutinize groups with 'progressives' in their name seeking tax-exempt status. 'Our audit did not find evidence that the IRS used the 'progressives' identifier as selection criteria for potential political cases between May 2010 and May 2012,' George wrote in the letter obtained by The Hill. The inspector general stressed that 100 percent of the groups with 'Tea Party,' 'patriots' and '9/12' in their name were flagged for extra attention, while only 30 percent of the groups with 'progress' or 'progressive' were highlighted as potentially political."