More than three years after it admitted to targeting tea party groups for intrusive scrutiny, the IRS has finally released a near-complete list of the organizations it snagged in a political dragnet.
The tax agency filed the list last month as part of a court case after a series of federal judges, fed up with what they said was the agency’s stonewalling, ordered it to get a move on. The case is a class-action lawsuit, so the list of names is critical to knowing the scope of those who would have a claim against the IRS.
But even as it answers some questions, the list raises others, including exactly when the targeting stopped, and how broadly the tax agency drew its net when it went after nonprofits for unusual scrutiny.
The government released names of 426 organizations. Another 40 were not released as part of the list because they had already opted out of being part of the class-action suit.
That total is much higher than the 298 groups the IRS’ inspector general identified back in May 2013, when investigators first revealed the agency had been subjecting applications to long — potentially illegal — delays, and forcing them to answer intrusive questions about their activities. Tea party and conservative groups said they was the target of unusually heavy investigations and longer delays,
Edward D. Greim, the lawyer who’s pursuing the case on behalf of NorCal Tea Party Patriots and other members of the class, said the list also could have ballooned toward the end of the targeting as the IRS, once it knew it was being investigated, snagged more liberal groups in its operations to try to soften perceptions of political bias.
“As we have identified in our filings in this case, important questions still exist regarding changes to the IRS’ case listings that occurred after the IRS learned that the [inspector general] and congressional investigations had begun,” he said. “Based on these changes, which to date remain unexplained, a very real possibility — if not probability — exists that the IRS modified its targeting in light of the investigations, packing its own internal lists of targeted groups to support its preferred narrative, including by adding ideologically diverse groups.”
He said if that did happen, it would have “tainted” the list the IRS has now released.
The IRS declined to comment, saying its filing spoke for itself.
A series of investigations found the IRS did ask intrusive questions and did delay applications for years, in violation of policy. But so far no investigation has found any order from the White House to conduct the targeting.
‘Tea’ and ‘patriot’ groups
Sixty of the groups on the list released last month have the word “tea” in their name, 33 have “patriot,” eight refer to the Constitution, and 13 have “912” in their name — which is the monicker of a movement started by conservatives. Another 26 group names refer to “liberty,” though that list does include some groups that are not discernibly conservative in orientation.
Among the groups that appear to trend liberal are three with the word “occupy” in their name.
And then there are some surprising names, including three state or local chapters of the League of Women Voters — a group with a long history of nonprofit work.
Some of the most active and prominent tea party groups snared in the targeting aren’t on the class-action list. At least some of them opted not to be part of the joint legal action to preserve their own lawsuits.
Congressional Republicans say IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who was brought in by President Obama to clean up the agency after the targeting scandal, has failed — and even misled Congress during the investigation. Some Republicans are even pursuing impeachment against Mr. Koskinen, accusing him of defying a subpoena for former senior IRS executive Lois G. Lerner’s emails by allowing computer backup tapes to be destroyed.
Even outside of impeachment, the House GOP has proposed a new round of budget cuts for the IRS, aimed at trying to deliver a message that Mr. Koskinen’s tenure has been unacceptable.
And the tax agency is still defending itself in a series of court cases. In addition to the NorCal class action case, the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., is currently considering an appeal by tea party groups who argue the targeting is still going on.
“One thing remains clear: Continued litigation is the only way to force the IRS’ hand in order to expose its targeting scheme that was coordinated with the help of the DOJ and other federal agencies so that we can obtain justice for those patriotic Americans who were unconstitutionally targeted by their own government,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing some of the plaintiffs in the appeals case.
In yet another case, the conservative group Cause of Action has been pursuing the IRS to turn over documents the group believed would show White House officials requesting secret taxpayer information on conservatives.
But in a filing Friday, the IRS said it has conducted a final search and can’t find any evidence that the White House either asked for or received protected information.