IRS vs. Tea Party: political targeting or low-level mistake?

Congress and the administration are trying to get to the bottom of a new cover-up controversy after IRS officials admitted last week to inappropriately scrutinizing conservative, non-profit groups when they applied for tax exempt status prior to the 2012 election.

Due Diligence’s Carmen Russell-Sluchansky talks about the IRS getting in hot water with Dmitriy Shapiro, Producer at Due Diligence:

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and Steve Dennis, White House reporter for CQ Roll Call:

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The story broke on Friday, when the IRS’ director of tax exempt organizations, Lois Lerner, apologized to the Tea Party for what she called an apolitical, low-level process that used keywords such as “tea party” and “patriot” when reviewing applications. Lerner claimed that no high level political officials with the agency knew about or were involved in the practice.

Additional context was provided, this weekend, that seems to contradict the IRS’ claim.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released details from a draft of a full report — expected to be released this weekend — an ongoing investigation this week that points to a much wider problem.

First, the targeting started much earlier than previously admitted to by IRS leadership. The timeline reports that greater scrutiny was given to conservative group applications as far back as March 2010.

Next, the targeting did not only include searching keywords like “tea party”, but actually probing any group whose name appeared to criticize the way the country was run — such as those advocating against government spending or federal debt. Other groups targeted were in favor of tax reform, making America better, or claimed to educate citizens about the US Constitution.

Finally, there are allegations that high level officials like Lerner knew about this practice as early as summer 2011, but didn’t admit any knowledge or wrongdoing when questioned by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in March 2012.

When GOP Representatives inquired about complaints they had received, IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman said that it was only the usual back and forth that happens with organizations’ 501(c)(4) status and that there was no politically motivated targeting.

Although it appears that Lerner was not forthright in Friday’s apology, the Inspector General’s reviews mention emails showing her attempting to reign in this practice and focus on all political groups. Unfortunately, her attempts appear to have failed.

Both sides are weighing in on this developing story, calling it a failure that could seriously hurt public trust in the IRS. Earlier today, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said that they will be opening their own investigation, and President Obama vowed to hold those involved accountable.

About Carmen Munir Russell-Sluchansky 360 Articles
Carmen is a multimedia journalist based in Washington, DC whose work has appeared in a variety of outlets including National Geographic, NBC News, the BBC, Asia! Magazine, The China Post, Chicago Tribune and Orlando Sentinel.