The Internal Revenue Service is still targeting tea party and conservative groups in their applications for tax-exempt status, a full three months after the scandal first erupted.
“In plain English, the IRS is still targeting tea party cases,” an aide to Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told The Washington Examiner.
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Camp, a Michigan Republican, released a transcript of testimony from an IRS agent who told a Ways and Means investigator that the agency was still targeting such groups, the Examiner reports.
The testimony was given in a closed-door session on Aug. 1, according to the Examiner.
Camp called the renewed scrutiny “outrageous.”
The IRS agent, who was not identified, told the committee that applications for tax-exempt status from tea party groups were forced into a special “secondary screening” because the agency has not yet developed new guidelines on how to review applications from such groups, the Examiner reports.
In the transcript Camp released, a Ways and Means investigator asked the IRS agent: “If you saw — I am asking this currently, if today if a tea party case, a group — a case from a tea party group — came in to your desk, you reviewed the file and there was no evidence of political activity, would you potentially approve that case? Is that something you would do?”
“At this point, I would send it to secondary screening, political advocacy,” the agent responded, according to the transcript.
“So you would treat a tea party group as a political advocacy case even if there was no evidence of political activity on the application?” the committee investigator then asked. “Is that right?”
“Based on my current manager’s direction, uh-huh,” the IRS agent responded.
The original scandal erupted in early May when a Treasury Department inspector general revealed that nonprofit tea party, conservative, and religious groups had been singled out for special scrutiny by the IRS for their tax-exempt applications between 2010 and through the 2012 presidential election.
During the period, the IRS agents placed groups with words like “tea party and “patriot” in their names on a “be on the lookout” — or BOLO — list for additional screening of its applications for tax-exempt status. The 501(c)(4) status allows groups to keep their donors private.
President Barack Obama fired Steven Miller, the head of the IRS, who apologized in testimony to the Ways and Means Committee, calling it “horrible customer service.”
Miller, who had been a deputy commissioner whose portfolio included the unit that decided on tax-exempt status, was briefed about the practice by IRS officials after May 2012.
At least three other IRS officials had been replaced or were put on administrative leave.
Lois Lerner, who oversaw the IRS division that targeted the groups, is still on administrative leave. In May, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination, refusing to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating the matter.
Twenty-five such groups have since sued the IRS and the Obama administration in federal court over the additional scrutiny.
But Danny Werfel, the acting head of the IRS, told Congress six weeks ago that the BOLO list had been suspended.
He also reaffirmed the inspector-general report’s finding that no employees or outsiders intentionally subjected tea party and other conservative groups to extra scrutiny.
“While fact-gathering is still underway, we have not found evidence of intentional wrongdoing” by anyone outside or inside the IRS, Werfel said in June.
But since nothing has replaced the list, agents apparently do not know how to handle tea party applications, or are too scared to make a decision, the Examiner reports.
Asked by the Ways and Means investigator how it now handles such applications, the IRS agent said: “If a political advocacy case came in today, I would give it or talk about it to my manager, because right now we really don’t have any direction, or we haven’t had any for the last month and a half.”
Camp told the Examiner: “It is outrageous that IRS management continues to target tea party cases without any justification. The harassment, abuse, and delays these Americans have faced over the last few years has been unwarranted, unprovoked and, at times, possibly illegal.
“The fact that the IRS still continues to treat the tea party differently and subject them to additional targeting is outrageous — and it must stop immediately.”
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Below is the Ways and Means Committee transcript of the IRS agent from Aug. 1:
Committee: Today, currently, how do you analyze advocacy cases? If, for example, Tea Party of Arkansas came in today, how would you handle it?
IRS agent: Well, the BOLO list doesn’t exist anymore.
IRS agent: If a political advocacy case came in today, I would give it or talk about it to my manager, because right now we really don’t have any direction, or we haven’t had any for the last month and a half.
—— (break line included in transcript)
Committee: If you saw — I am asking this currently, if today if a tea party case, a group — a case from a tea party group came in to your desk, you reviewed the file and there was no evidence of political activity, would you potentially approve that case? Is that something you would do?
IRS agent: At this point, I would send it to secondary screening, political advocacy.
Committee: So you would treat a tea party group as a political advocacy case even if there was no evidence of political activity on the application. Is that right?
IRS agent: Based on my current manager’s direction, uh-huh.
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