WASHINGTON -- The storm over the Internal Revenue Service’s dealings with groups seeking tax-exempt status is now nearly a month old, and virtually no organizations perceived to be liberal or nonpartisan have come forward to say they were unfairly targeted since then.
Some have been rejected for special status, but groups both denied and given exemptions contacted by McClatchy said they thought the scrutiny they got was fair.
“During the Bush administration we often thought the IRS was not doing enough, so the scrutiny we got was fair,” said Liz Wally, the executive director of Clean Elections Texas. The nonpartisan group and its education fund, which promote public financing of elections, received tax-exempt status within months of applying in 2010.
When the House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony Tuesday from aggrieved organizations, all were conservative. Democrats were invited to have witnesses but declined.
“In the end, it doesn’t matter if it’s Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal, it happens to all Americans,” explained Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York, the vice chairman of the House of Representatives Democratic Caucus.
The IRS’s targeting of conservative-leaning groups is the subject of investigations by the Treasury Department’s inspector general, the FBI and at least four congressional panels.
The controversy dogging the IRS is the most explosive for the agency since President Richard Nixon targeted his political enemies with a special unit created in the agency more than 40 years ago. After Nixon’s 1974 resignation in disgrace, the laws were changed to limit the ability of the executive and legislative branches to influence IRS audits and reviews.
Experts insist that the IRS strives to be fair, and they point out that it’s not unusual for those who don’t share the White House’s political views to think that they’re being targeted. And the IRS routinely watches closely groups that may have political ties.
IRS officials have contended that they didn’t single out conservative groups for special attention. “Organizations from all walks and all persuasions were pulled in,” then-acting Commissioner Steven Miller told a congressional hearing last month.
Martin Sullivan, chief economist at Tax Analysts, a group of specialty publications, tried to ascertain the accuracy of that statement. But, he found, “because the IRS is prohibited by law from releasing information on applications either denied or not yet approved, we will probably never know.”
Of the 176 cases chosen for extra scrutiny before they were approved, 46 had “tea party,” “patriot” or “912” in their names, 76 others were conservative, 48 were non-conservative and the political leanings of six couldn’t be determined, according to Sullivan.
The experiences of two Texas-based groups that sought exemptions raise questions as to whether the IRS at least bent to political winds.
Progress Texas, which bills itself as “communicating progressive values,” is based in the capital city of Austin. Eleven months after it applied for tax exempt status in March 2011, it received a nine-page, 21-question letter from Lois Lerner, the IRS executive who was placed on administrative leave recently after she refused to answer questions from Congress.