The Internal Revenue Service on Friday apologized for targeting groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, confirming long-standing accusations by some conservatives that their applications for tax-exempt status were being improperly delayed and scrutinized.David French of the American Center for Law and Justice writes:
Lois G. Lerner, the IRS official who oversees tax-exempt groups, said the “absolutely inappropriate” actions by “front-line people” were not driven by partisan motives.
Rather, Lerner said, they were a misguided effort to come up with an efficient means of dealing with a flood of applications from organizations seeking tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012.
During that period, about 75 groups were selected for extra inquiry — including burdensome questionnaires and, in some cases, improper requests for the names of their donors — simply because of the words in their names, she said in a conference call with reporters.
They constituted about one-quarter of the 300 groups who were flagged for additional analysis by employees of the IRS tax-exempt unit’s main office in Cincinnati.
It was not clear whether the IRS had anticipated the firestorm that it would ignite with its disclosure. Indeed, it appeared to have happened by chance when Lerner, appearing Friday at a conference held by the American Bar Association, responded to a question about the allegations by conservative groups.
The IRS’s subsequent conference call with reporters was clumsily handled. At one point, Lerner attempted to do arithmetic on the phone and blurted out: “I’m not good at math.” That admission was understandable, given that her training is as a lawyer, but it produced a quote that is likely to haunt the agency that handles the nation’s tax returns.
In addition, they asked for such things as the résumés of board members and disclosure of family members’ identities. I shouldn’t even have to explain how unconstitutional this is. Also, to be clear, these are questions designed not just to create a paperwork burden for tea-party groups but also to dissect their operations and to chill even the activities of family members.In 1999, J.F. Couch and associates wrote at Cato:
Moreover, if the IRS claims this was a localized problem, we had voluminous communications with IRS offices in California, Washington D.C., and in the Ohio office that was the alleged source of the problem.
Some observers point out that political considerations may influence enforcement activities such as audits. The blatant use of the IRS for political purposes is not new. During the Kennedy presidency, a mysterious IRS organization called ‘‘The Ideological Organizations Audit Project’’ was formed to investigate right-leaning groups; among those apparently targeted was Young Americans for Freedom (Davis 1997: 246). The Special Services Staff (SSS) was formed during the Nixon administration to coordinate ‘‘all IRS activities involving ideological, militant, subversive, radical, and similar type organizations’’ (Davis 1997: 88).
Davis, Shelley. (1997) Unbridled Power. New York: Harper Collins.