The IRS singled out tea party and other conservative groups for “burdensome” scrutiny because of their politically charged names and delayed approving some applications for so long that the groups simply gave up, according to an official government audit, released Tuesday, that has the agency reeling.
Members of Congress said the latest revelations suggest that Internal Revenue Service officials withheld information from Congress, and two Republican governors called for a special prosecutor to investigate the matter. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Tuesday that the Justice Department will determine whether anyone at the IRS broke federal tax laws.
Tea party groups are adding fuel to the fire for an employee purge at the tax collecting agency, saying those responsible for the scandal must resign or be sacked immediately.
“I am astounded and appalled that the IRS targeted organizations based on their political beliefs,” said Rep. Dave Camp, who as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is the nation’s chief tax-law writer. “No American, regardless of political affiliation, should have their right to free speech threatened by the IRS.”
The audit has been in the works for a year. In the 54-page report, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration said the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” to single out conservative and tea party groups that were applying for tax-exempt status for special scrutiny to determine whether they were crossing the line into campaigning.
The auditors said the IRS reviewed every single application that used “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their names. Even as they were scrutinizing those groups, the IRS ignored other applications that should have raised flags, the auditors said.
The auditors also said the agency’s leadership showed “ineffective management” in allowing the scrutiny for 18 months.
The auditors also said the IRS delayed decisions on some conservative groups’ applications for more than three years. Some applicants simply gave up.
Despite the extra attention, none of the nearly 300 applications was ever denied, the auditors said.
The IRS last week acknowledged it had targeted conservative groups, and in the days since the agency has been under fire from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, said organizations were singled out if they had “tea party” or “patriot” in their titles. In some cases, groups were asked for their lists of donors, which usually violates IRS policy.
Ms. Lerner apologized for the “inappropriate” practice and said the cases were initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati, though she failed to mention that some senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as June 2011, according to an inspector general’s timeline of events obtained by The Washington Times.
But officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved with investigating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, making clear that the effort reached well beyond the branch in Cincinnati that was initially blamed, The Washington Post reported.
Republicans are focusing their attention on acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who the agency said was first informed on May 3, 2012 — when he was deputy commissioner — that applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups were inappropriately singled out.
Mr. Miller later briefed Congress about the reports but failed to mention that tea party groups were being targeted inappropriately.