Washington • Internal Revenue Service officials responsible for targeting tea party organizations and groups critical of the government should end up behind bars, said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
Chaffetz is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that will dig into the growing scandal that had politicians from both parties fuming Monday.
“Whoever is responsible, whoever was complicit in the execution of this, those who participated in the cover-up, not only should they be fired, they should be prosecuted and thrown in jail,” Chaffetz said. “There is no way to defend this one. Using the IRS as a tool is just beyond reason.”
The IRS has admitted to and apologized for inappropriately selecting conservative groups for extra reviews of their tax-exempt status, going so far as to demand to know the donors of some organizations during the 2012 election. Chaffetz and Utah tea party leader David Kirkham say the IRS did not target any Utah groups to their knowledge.
An inspector general’s report is due out this week, which, according to The Washington Post, will say that the IRS selected 298 tax-exempt groups for special scrutiny to ensure they were not violating laws involving political participation. Of those, 72 had “tea party” in their name, 13 had “patriot” and 11 had “9/12.”
President reacts • At a news conference Monday morning with British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Barack Obama said he first heard about the accusations on Friday, when Lois Lerner, the IRS division chief over tax-exempt organizations, disclosed the improper targeting at a conference in Washington.
“If you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, it is outrageous,” Obama said. “I’ve got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it.”
The Democratic president said the people involved should “be held fully accountable.”
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who was elected in 2010 as a tea party champion, said everyone should be concerned about the IRS actions.
“This should not be dismissed as just another conflict between left and right,” he said. “It’s a conflict between the federal government and the American people, who — regardless of their political leanings — should be free to exercise their constitutionally protected rights without fear of political retribution from the world’s most powerful tax-collection agency.”
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, stated simply: “This kind of profiling is unacceptable and wrong.”
The House Oversight Committee has already announced that it will hold hearings, and Chaffetz has sought to tie the scandal directly to Obama’s White House.
“Every time I turn around this administration has a scandal on a scale I have never seen before,” he said. “I don’t understand why people are not held accountable in the Obama administration.”
Chaffetz has helped lead the charge in the Republican-controlled House in investigating the government response and explanation of the attack last September on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Senate hearings • Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, sent a letter Monday calling for hearings in the Senate Finance Committee, where he is the top Republican. In 2012, Hatch sent two letters to IRS leaders complaining about increased scrutiny of tea party groups, and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a House committee in March that the agency wasn’t targeting conservative groups.
Hatch said the Finance Committee, which oversees the IRS, has “an important role to play in helping restore the confidence of the American people in this important agency due to this blatant political and partisan behavior.”
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., promised hearings in a statement Monday, saying: “The IRS will now be the ones put under additional scrutiny.”
Kirkham, a businessman who helped fund tea party gatherings in Utah, said conservative activists in the state made a decision to have a less formal operation, which didn’t require creating a tax-exempt legal entity to raise money.
“Our legal structure was an email list. If we wanted people to show up, we sent out an email. I paid for everything,” he said, noting the expenses largely consisted of protest permits and rental chairs.
Kirkham said it was a conscious decision, in part, based on his experience as a specialty car manufacturer, having faced audits at the state and federal level.