WASHINGTON -- Political Washington reacted with bipartisan outrage Monday to reports that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative organizations applying for special tax-exempt status though questions have been raised about politics and tax status since at least 2006.
President Barack Obama said it was outrageous if true that the IRS gave extra scrutiny to right-leaning groups applying for tax-exempt status. They have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that theyre . . . applying the laws in a nonpartisan way, he said at the White House.
We need to get to the bottom of what happened here. I want to see all the facts, said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee. The American people have questions for the IRS and I intend to get answers.
The top Republican on the panel concurred. Bipartisanship on this issue is critical since both Democrats and Republicans have expressed considerable interest in these matters over the past couple of years, said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
While the political leaders of the government reacted to the news, insiders noted that there had been complaints about IRS treatment of groups engaging in political activity since at least 2006. Then, it was scrutiny of liberal-leaning churches during the Bush administration. Now, its the treatment of right-leaning groups during the Obama administration.
There are tea party groups that went out of business because of these (IRS) letters, Tom Zawistowski, the executive director of the TEA Party in Portage County, Ohio, and president of the We the People Convention, told McClatchy. How do you give (tea party and conservative) groups time and effort they put in back? I see a class-action suit.
At issue is a Cincinnati-based office of the IRS that determines whether applications for tax-exempt status are legitimate.
The determinations unit in spring of 2010 began giving special scrutiny to organizations that mentioned tea party, patriots or other take back the country references in the name. They later extended to groups focused on government spending, according to a timeline obtained from congressional sources by McClatchy.
Word of the work was not limited to the Ohio office. IRS managers in Cincinnati and Washington decided in April 2010 to send a Case Sensitive Report about the tea party cases up the chain in Washington, according to Hatch. The report was given to two IRS executives in Washington the same month, including Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups, and her subordinate, according to Hatch.
The timeline comes from an unreleased report from the Treasury Departments inspector general for tax administration, which is due out this week.
That office began looking into a campaign of intimidation alleged in a June 28, 2012, letter and request for investigation from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The inspector general, J. Russell George, responded July 11, 2012, pledging to look into Issas concern, specifically questionnaires that the IRS has issued which may exceed appropriate scrutiny and a potential lack of balance in the use of criteria for reviewing organizations that are applying for tax-exempt status.