Ways and Means to IRS: ‘Provide All Communications Containing Words ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Patriot,’ or ‘Conservative’—By Wednesday

Terence P. Jeffrey | May 10, 2013 | 4:34pm EDT
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House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R.-La.) (J.Scott Applewhite)

(CNSNews.com) - The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight has thrown down an investigative gauntlet to the Internal Revenue Service, demanding that the agency hand over by next Wednesday every communication in its records that includes the words “tea party,” “patriot” or “conservative.”

The committee is also demanding of the IRS that by next Wednesday it provide the committee with the names and titles of all individuals who were involved in targeting conservative non-profit groups for more intensive review of their applications for non-profit status.

The request follows a report this morning from the Associated Press that Lois Lerner, director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, said at an American Bar Association conference that the IRS had targeted for special review applications of non-profit groups that included the words “tea party” or “patriot.”

“That was wrong,” the AP quoted Lerner as saying. “That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review.”

“The IRS would like to apologize for that,” Lerner said.

Lerner’s statement at the ABA conference, however, seems to contradict testimony that then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman made in the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight on March 22, 2012.

At that hearing, Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R.-La.) specifically asked Shulman about allegations that the IRS had been targeting Tea Party groups.

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“I've gotten a number of letters,” Boustany said at that hearing. “Just recently, we've seen some recent press allegations that the IRS is targeting certain Tea Party groups across the country requesting what have been described as owner's document requests, delaying approval for tax-exempt status, and that kind of thing. Can you elaborate on what's going on with that? I mean, can you give us assurances that the IRS is not targeting particular groups based on political leanings?”

“Yes,” said Shulman. “No, thanks for bringing this up, because I think there's been a lot of press about this and a lot of moving information. So, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify. First, let me start by saying, yes, I can give you assurances.”

“And so, what's been happening has been the normal back-and-forth that happens with the IRS,” Shulman testified. “None of the alleged taxpayers and obviously, I can't talk about individual taxpayers, and I'm not involved in these, are in examination process. They're in an application process which they moved into, voluntarily. And so, there's absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back-and-forth that happens when people apply for 501(c)(4) status.”

Shulman was nominated as IRS commissioner by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate on March 14, 2008. He left the position on Nov. 9, 2012, and was replaced by acting Commissioner Steve Miller.

After the Associated Press story about Lerner’s statement to the IRS broke on Friday, Chairman Boustany sent a letter to IRS Acting Commissioner Miller pointing out that the Ways and Means Committee had been investigating this matter for more than a year, citing Lerner’s “apology” at the ABA conference, and demanding that the IRS produce certain communications and names by next Wednesday.

“As you know, for more than a year, the Committee on the Ways and Means has been pursuing an active investigation into the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups seeking tax exempt status,” Boustany wrote. “To help the committee fully understand the extent of the agency’s practices, provide the following information by no later than Wednesday, May 15, 2013: 1) Provide all communications containing the words ‘tea party’ ‘patriot’ or ‘conservative.’ 2) Provide names and titles of all individuals involved in this discrimination.”

As reported by the Associated Press, Lerner told the ABA conference that the targeting of groups that included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications had been started by low-level IRS workers in Cincinnati. The AP said that after her talk Lerner told the news agency that high level IRS officials had not known about this targeting.

Back on March 23, 2010, the day after Shulman testified, Mark Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, wrote to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration calling for an investigation of IRS misconduct in its treatment of Tea Party organizations.

“Recent media reports indicate that the EO Division is using inappropriate and intimidating investigation tactics in the administration of applications for exempt status submitted by organizations associated with the Tea Party movement,” Levin wrote to the IG.

“Landmark Legal Foundation respectfully requests an immediate and thorough investigation to determine whether IRS employees are acting improperly in the evaluation of exempt status applications,” wrote Levin. “This investigation also must determine whether the relevant IRS employees are acting at the direction of politically motivated superiors.”

Three months after Landmark Legal requested the IG investigation, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) and Oversight Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs Chairman Jim Jordan (R.-Ohio) sent a letter to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration also requesting an investigation.

Today, Issa released a July 11, 2012 letter from the inspector general stating that his office “recently began work on the issue.” An IG audit is currently underway.

On Friday afternoon, CNSNews.com asked the IRS if it intended to comply with the Ways and Means Committee’s request for the names and titles of people involved in discriminating against Tea Party or conservative organizations and all communications containing the words “tea party” “patriot” or “conservative.” A spokesman said he would check. As this story was posted—only a little more than an hour after the question was first posed--the IRS had not yet responded.

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