Documents: IRS Targeted Tea Party Groups with 'Anti-Obama' Materials
Internal documents from the IRS reveal that the agency specifically flagged Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status that agents deemed were engaging in "anti-Obama" rhetoric.
More than 80% of the groups the agency put on its "political advocacy case list" in 2011 were conservative organizations. USA Today obtained internal documents "from 2011 that list 162 groups by name, with comments by Internal Revenue Service lawyers in Washington raising issues about their political, lobbying and advocacy activities."
Such activities were labeled as "propaganda" in 21 cases, even though the word "propaganda" does not "appear in section 501(c)(4), which governs the social welfare status that most Tea Party groups were applying for," according to John Colombo, a law professor at the University of Illinois. The word "propaganda" appears "in section 501(c)(3), which governs public charities."
According to a USA Today analysis, "more than 80% of the organizations on the 2011 'political advocacy case' list were conservative." Some liberal groups like "Progress Texas," which received an exemption in 2012 but was flagged for "anti-Rick Perry" rhetoric, and Progressives United, a group founded by former Sen. Russ Feingold (R-WI), were flagged. However, the majority of the groups that were flagged were Tea Party groups and even more establishment Republican groups like Crossroads GPS, which has not received an exemption.
Former acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller denied to Congress in May that there was any partisanship involved in how groups applying for tax-exempt status were flagged, targeted, and scrutinized.
The American Center for Law and Justice, "a nonprofit legal institute that represents 23 of the groups appearing on the IRS list," though, said the new documents seem to be "the most powerful evidence yet of a coordinated effort" to target Tea Party groups.
"The political motivations of this are so patently obvious, but then to have a document that spells it out like this is very damaging to the IRS," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the ACLJ, told USA Today. "I hope the FBI has seen these documents."
In addition, IRS lawyers flagged groups that they thought were connected to Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, and Newt Gingrich. Another five groups were "flagged as having 'anti-Obama' materials in their applications or on their websites." USA Today found that the IRS "said the website of the Patriots of Charleston contains 'negative Obama commentary,'" even though the IRS did not cite any examples. The group received its exemption in September of 2012.
"To focus in on somebody saying something anti-Obama," Joanne Jones, the group's vice chairwoman said, "it's almost like the speech police there. It's disturbing. It's the kind of overreach that leads into Obamacare."
USA Today also found that on "Nov. 16, 2011, IRS lawyers in Washington sent a list of cases to front-line agents in Cincinnati, along with comments and guidance on how to handle political organizations." One group applying for tax-exempt status that was impacted was the "The Tea Party of North Idaho."
According to the documents, a "lawyer in the IRS Exempt Organizations Unit in Washington" noted The Tea Party of North Idaho, which filed its tax-exempt application in February, 2010, had "no significant amount of clear campaign intervention; however little issue advocacy or educational; significant inflammatory language, highly emotional language, little to no educational information on issues." They "recommended that screeners in Cincinnati look for other materials—including 'press releases, commentary, articles, and research reports.'"
According to Leslie Damiano, who co-founded the group, that is when she "started getting what she considered to be intrusive questions from the IRS." Damiano said the IRS wanted to know her donors, the companies they owned, the "educational background of the group's board members," and "whether candidates were invited to the group's meetings, and whether it made endorsements." Damiano said the group became so frustrated with the process that it "withdrew its application in 2012."
The list also included organizations that focused on limited government and debt reduction, like The Association to Reduce the National Debt. Though IRS tax specialists found that the group had "no political campaign activities," the association still has not received its ruling letter after two years.
Many of the IRS officials involved in the targeting scandal, including Lois Lerner, who was the head of the tax-exempt unit and first confessed to the targeting by answering a question that had been planted, have hired elite DC lawyers as Congress—and possibly the Justice Department—continue the investigations into the scandal.