A new report from Judicial Watch reveals a concerted effort from Sen. John McCain’s office to urge the IRS under Lois Lerner to strike out against political advocacy groups, including tea party organizations.
Thanks to the results of an extensive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that has been delayed for many years, Judicial Watch has obtained several key emails from 2013 that chronicle McCain’s and Democrat Sen. Carl Levin’s efforts to reign in the advocacy groups that sprouted immediately following the Citizens United decision from the Supreme Court.
The documents uncovered by Judicial Watch include notes from a high-level meeting on April 30, 2013 between powerful members of McCain’s and Levin’s staffs and Lerner, then-director of tax exempt organizations at the IRS under Barack Obama. The notes reveal the suggestions from McCain’s former staff director and chief counsel on the Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee, Henry Kerner who urges Lerner to use IRS audits on the advocacy groups to financially ruin them:
In the full notes of an April 30 meeting, McCain’s high-ranking staffer Kerner recommends harassing non-profit groups until they are unable to continue operating. Kerner tells Lerner, Steve Miller, then chief of staff to IRS commissioner, Nikole Flax, and other IRS officials, “Maybe the solution is to audit so many that it is financially ruinous.” In response, Lerner responded that “it is her job to oversee it all:”
Henry Kerner asked how to get to the abuse of organizations claiming section 501 (c)(4) but designed to be primarily political. Lois Lerner said the system works, but not in real time. Henry Kerner noted that these organizations don’t disclose donors. Lois Lerner said that if they don’t meet the requirements, we can come in and revoke, but it doesn’t happen timely. Nan Marks said if the concern is that organizations engaging in this activity don’t disclose donors, then the system doesn’t work. Henry Kerner said that maybe the solution is to audit so many that it is financially ruinous. Nikole noted that we have budget constraints. Elise Bean suggested using the list of organizations that made independent expenditures. Lois Lerner said that it is her job to oversee it all, not just political campaign activity.
Judicial Watch previously reported on the 2013 meeting. Senator McCain then issued a statement decrying “false reports claiming that his office was somehow involved in IRS targeting of conservative groups.” The IRS previously blacked out the notes of the meeting but Judicial Watch found the notes among subsequent documents released by the agency.
Less than two weeks after the April 30 meeting, Lerner revealed that her staff had purposely discriminated against conservative tea party groups seeking 501(c)4 tax exempt status because they represented and advocated for conservative political positions.
“The Obama IRS scandal is bipartisan – McCain and Democrats who wanted to regulate political speech lost at the Supreme Court, so they sought to use the IRS to harass innocent Americans,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Obama IRS scandal is not over – as Judicial Watch continues to uncover smoking gun documents that raise questions about how the Obama administration weaponized the IRS, the FEC, FBI, and DOJ to target the First Amendment rights of Americans.”
UPDATE: After publication of this article Sen. McCain’s office contacted us and issued the following response:
“Judicial Watch’s allegations that Senator McCain was somehow involved in the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups were debunked in 2015 and have no merit. As the record shows, Senator McCain was one of the most outspoken critics of the IRS’s bias against conservative groups and abuse of power under the Obama Administration. After the extent of IRS targeting of conservative groups was revealed, he called for Lois Lerner to be fired. And as Ranking Member of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, he released a 37-page dissenting report refuting the Democrats’ Majority report claiming the IRS showed no bias against conservative groups. Judicial Watch has once again gone out of its way to smear Senator McCain’s strong record of oversight of IRS practices, and fabricate outlandish conspiracy theories that are totally contradicted by the facts.”
UPDATE 2: My friend Patterico has known Mr. Kerner for many years and he sheds some more light on this topic. He maintains that the meeting had nothing to do with the Tea Party groups and points out that Lerner’s Tea Party targeting had already happened well before this meeting took place.
Henry is the last person in the world who would ever be a part of targeting Tea Party groups. He was instrumental in calling out the IRS for what it did.
Nothing in the quoted passage from the IRS staffer’s notes suggests that Henry was talking about Tea Party groups — and Lois Lerner’s admission that the IRS had previously targeted these groups came just ten days later, meaning that the IRS targeting had long since happened before Henry asked the question (assuming the notes are accurate, which I do not). Obviously, the years-long targeting did not take place in ten days. So what was Henry talking about? Even though the IRS/Tea Party scandal was an outrage, there are definitely non-profits that abuse their status as supposedly apolitical outfits (can you say ACORN?) and a new staffer asking questions about what to do about such abusive groups is hardly evidence of targeting groups for improper reasons.