The IRS singled out pro-border-security groups for intrusive scrutiny along with tea party, conservative, Occupy movement and progressive organizations, the tax agency’s inspector general said in an audit Thursday that confirmed the depths of tea party targeting.
Dozens of liberal groups were also snared by the scrutiny from 2004 through 2013, as were groups that dealt with specific issues such as health care, marijuana legalization or immigration, said the Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration.
Tea party and conservative groups still faced the brunt of targeting, with the liberal and issues groups significantly less affected, investigators said. There also is no evidence that the liberal groups faced the sensitive case treatment en masse, the way tea party groups did under former IRS senior executive Lois G. Lerner.
Still, other groups did encounter long delays in getting approvals, and some faced the same kinds of intrusive questions about donors, personal beliefs and even their activities at their unrelated jobs.
Democrats said the report contradicted the long-standing narrative about tea party targeting by proving the Obama administration didn’t single out conservatives.
“This was a case, as I said in the beginning, of gross mismanagement at the IRS, not political targeting,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the chief tax oversight committee in the House. “But that’s not the political narrative the Republicans wanted, so they selectively ignored important facts to skew their ‘investigation.’”
Republicans said the report shows an agency bungling its core duty of treating groups without bias no matter what their political views.
“This report reinforces what government watchdogs and congressional investigators have confirmed time and time again: Bureaucrats at the IRS, such as Lois Lerner, arbitrarily and haphazardly administered the tax code and targeted taxpayers based on political ideology,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, Texas Republican.
The latest audit follows the original 2013 TIGTA report that spotted the illegal targeting of conservative groups, which were pulled out of the usual processing based on conservative-sounding names such as those that included the word “patriot.”
That 2013 investigation found that while most of the targets snared were tea party groups, some liberal organizations were also targeted.
Members of Congress asked investigators to go back and see what other inappropriate screens the IRS used, and Thursday’s report was the result.
Groups related to the Occupy movement, some health care organizations, medical marijuana advocates and even groups that wanted a crackdown on illegal immigration — essentially advocating for enforcement of existing law — were scrutinized by the IRS.
The TIGTA report redacted the names of the seven “Border Patrol” groups targeted and said the IRS was unable to say why it went after them beginning in 2006.
The IRS on Thursday didn’t respond to a request for comment about why it targeted border security groups.
Another 14 targets were groups that sprouted out of ACORN, the troubled community organizers. In those cases, the IRS said, they were targeted because the parent organization had been under federal investigation for years.
Nearly half of the ACORN-related groups faced long delays, had their cases reviewed in Washington as well as Cincinnati, where nonprofit applications are supposed to be decided, and were asked inappropriate questions, the audit found.
Questions included names of donors, details on people who attended meetings, demands that group officials disclose their own political leanings and plans, and inquiries about their other work.
The audit said it relied on the IRS to turn over documentation and tried to interview current and former agency employees to piece together why groups were targeted. TIGTA said only three of the 21 former employees they reached out to agreed to talk to them.
Some employees who did talk had hazy memories about the targeting.
In one troubling appendix to the report, the inspector general says the IRS was unable to produce files for eight of the groups investigators were tracking.
The IRS, which did not respond to a question from The Washington Times about the lost files, in its official response said the issues highlighted in the report were in the past.
“Since the time period covered by the report, the IRS has made significant changes in the way we handle the review process for tax-exempt applications,” said Sunita B. Lough, commissioner for the tax-exempt entities division at the IRS.
The commissioner said that includes no longer asking for donor information.
The audit says the agency’s inappropriate behavior spanned at least the period from 2004 to 2013, and the agency used more than 250 criteria to single out applications for extra review. Some 17 of those criteria seemed to be centered on politics, the audit said, snaring at least 83 groups.
By contrast, more than 400 mostly conservative groups were deemed to have been snared by the anti-tea-party targeting that spanned 2009 to 2013.