IG Report: Before 2013 IRS Targeted Progressives, Not Just Conservatives

J. David Ake/AP
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A new report from the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration  sheds a revelatory light on the 2013 controversy that led many to accuse the IRS under the Obama administration of targeting conservative non-profit groups for increased scrutiny.

The IRS singled out progressive groups seeking tax exempt status, too, according to the new report, and did so based on their names or implied political beliefs.

In 2013, an inspector general’s report forced the resignation of IRS Commissioner Steven Miller and Lois Lerner, who oversaw the IRS division for tax exempt groups, over accusations they had targeted conservative groups applying for tax exempt status.

A new report from the same inspector general office, completed on Sept. 28 and released publicly Thursday, found that the IRS flagged phrases associated with both progressive and conservative groups for further review.

The IRS regularly screens organizations seeking tax exempt status to check that they are not primarily engaged in political advocacy.

The 2013 inspector general’s report provided years of fuel for Tea Party groups who claimed the Obama administration had used the IRS as a political bludgeon, tying up applications with bureaucratic red tape. It exposed the use of terms including “Tea Party” and “patriot” as triggers for further review.

The 2017 report found the same was true for terms associated with left-leaning groups, such as “progressive,” “green energy,” “medical marijuana,” and “occupy.”

For example, one 2012 BOLO listing (short for “Be on the Look Out,” which alerted IRS officials to scrutinize applicants further) included in the 2017 report characterized the occupy movement’s “Current Political Issues” as “Political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution, $ocial economic reform/movement.”

“It was included on the BOLO listing after news articles surfaced stating that Occupy organizations were starting to file for I.R.C. § 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status,” the report explains.

The top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee at the time of the 2013 report, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI), said in a statement Thursday that the new inspector general report “validates” his assertions in 2013 “that there was no political motivation in the IRS’s processing of tax-exempt applications.”

“Republicans completely politicized an investigation into this issue,” Levin’s statement continued. “They claimed a May 2013 TIGTA report, which it’s now shown was wholly incomplete, to supported their allegations that the IRS Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division, then led by Lois Lerner, targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups for heightened scrutiny based solely on their political views.”

He added: “Republicans used the faulty May 2013 report to demonstrate the so-called BOLO included criteria singling out conservative organizations; this report confirms that, going back to 2004, a large number of liberal groups were also singled out – 61 containing the word ‘progressive’ in their name, 6 containing the word ‘Emerge,’ 5 ‘Occupy’ and 14 ‘Acorn successors.’ This is similar to conservative groups identified in TIGTA’s May 2013 report – 72 containing ‘Tea Party’ in their name, 11 containing ‘9/12,’ and 13 containing ‘Patriots.’”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.
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