Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
IRS kept shifting targets on tax-exempt groups
First Published May 13 2013 10:07 am • Last Updated May 14 2013 10:16 am

When tax agents started singling out non-profit groups for extra scrutiny in 2010, they looked at first only for key words such as ‘Tea Party,’ but later they focused on criticisms by groups of "how the country is being run," according to investigative findings reviewed by Reuters on Sunday.

Over two years, IRS field office agents repeatedly changed their criteria while sifting through thousands of applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status to select ones for possible closer examination, the findings showed.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

At one point, the agents chose to screen applications from groups focused on making "America a better place to live."

Exactly who at the IRS made the decisions to start applying extra scrutiny was not clear from the findings, which were contained in portions of an investigative report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

Expected to be made public this week, the report was obtained in part by Reuters over the weekend as a full-blown scandal involving the IRS scrutiny widened, embarrassing the agency and distracting the Obama administration.

In one part of the report, TIGTA officials observed that the application screening effort showed "confusion about how to process the applications, delays in the processing of the applications, and a lack of management oversight and guidance."

After brewing for months, the IRS effort exploded into wider view on Friday when Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, apologized for what she called the "inappropriate" targeting of conservative groups for closer scrutiny, something the agency had long denied.

At a legal conference in Washington, while taking questions from the audience, Lerner said the agency was sorry.

She said the screening practice was confined to an IRS office in Cincinnati; that it was "absolutely not" influenced by the Obama administration; and that none of the targeted groups was denied tax-free status.

It is clear from the TIGTA findings that Lerner was informed in June 2011 that the extra scrutiny was occurring. Key words in the names of groups - including ‘Tea Party,’ "Patriot’ and ‘9/12’ - were being used to choose applications, TIGTA found.


story continues below
story continues below

"Issues" criteria were also used, TIGTA found. Scrutiny was being given to references to "Government spending, Government debt, or taxes; Education of the public via advocacy/lobbying to ‘make America a better place to live;’ and Statements in the case file (that) criticize how the country is being run."

Under these early criteria, more than 100 tax-exempt applications had been identified, according to TIGTA.

Briefed on the practice, Lerner ordered changes.

By July 2011, the IRS was no longer targeting just groups with certain key words in their names. Rather, the screening criteria had changed to "organizations involved with political, lobbying, or advocacy."

But then it changed again in January 2012 to cover "political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, social economic reform/movement," according to the findings contained in a Treasury Department watchdog report.

In March 2012, after Tea Party groups complained about delays in processing of their applications, then-IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman was called to testify by a congressional committee. He denied that the IRS was targeting tax-exempt groups based on their politics.

The IRS said on Saturday that senior IRS executives were not aware of the screening process. The documents reviewed by Reuters do not show that Shulman had any role.

In May 2012, the criteria for scrutiny were revised again to cover a variety of tax-exempt groups "with indicators of significant amounts of political campaign intervention (raising questions as to exempt purpose and/or excess private benefit)," according to a TIGTA timeline included in the findings.

Each year the IRS reviews as many as 60,000 applications from groups ranging from charities to labor unions that want to be classified as tax-exempt. "Social welfare" groups dedicated to the general good can be tax-exempt under tax law 501(c)4.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.