What Initiated the IRS Targeting of the Tea Party?

Did news coverage of a Tea Party group launching a 501(c)(4) in February 2010–including a story at NPR– launch the two year scrutiny of Tea Party groups? It’s impossible to tell for certain but the IG report does offer some clues that suggest this could be the case.

Other news outlets have speculated about what might have prompted the scrutiny but no firm conclusion seems possible since the IG report redacts the event which initiated the scrutiny.  However the report does offer clues.

A detailed timeline included in the report indicates the whole affair began with a February 25, 2010 email. The contents of the email, as well as the name of the sender and recipient, have been redacted and replaced with a string of asterisks. However the next entry, dated March 1st, does provide a clue. It reads, “The Determinations Unit Group Manager asked a specialist to search for other Tea Party or similar organizations’ applications in order to determine the scope of the issue.” [Emphasis added]

So we know the IRS became aware of Tea Party groups whose election activities raised an “issue.” A specialist was asked to determine how widespread that issue was. We know that the focus was eventually on Tea Party related groups who had applied for 501(c)(4) status, so we can assume that was also true of the group (or groups) which were noted in the initial email.

Earlier in the IG report there is another possible clue. A written description of events contains the same string of asterisks–actually two–but with one un-redacted sentence in between. I’ll present this as a blockquote so you can see it as it appears in the report [Emphasis added]:

**********************************1***************************************************************************1********************************************1***. According to media reports, some organizations were classified as I.R.C. § 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations but operated like political organizations. ********1*******************************************1**************************************. Soon thereafter, according to the IRS, a Determinations Unit specialist was asked to search for applications with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in the organization’s name as well as other “political-sounding” names.

It’s a bit hard to follow but there is the suggestion that media reports were published about whatever event precipitated the IRS scrutiny. So to sum up, the IRS became aware of an issue involving Tea Party groups and 501(c)(4) applications which were also reported by the media in February 2010. With that in mind consider this report by NPR dated February 19, 2010:

As you can hear, the focus of the story is the creation of a 501(c)(4)–the Ensuring Liberty Corp.–by Mark Skoda and the Memphis Tea Party. An earlier Fox story on Skoda’s announcement opens, “In a bid to advance the tea party
movement from holding rallies to holding office, the leaders of the
anti-establishment groups announced a new political organization Friday
that they say will “endorse, support and elect” conservatives across the
country.”

Of course this is speculation but it is not difficult to imagine that either of these news stories could have caught the attention of the IRS. Based on this, the Exempt Organizations was ordered to “search for other Tea Party or similar organizations’ applications in order to determine the scope of the issue.”

If this were true it might provide a relatively innocent explanation for how the targeting of Tea Party groups began. It would not explain why the IRS approved blatantly noxious BOLO criteria including “Statements in the case file that are critical of how the country is being run.” Nor would it explain why these obviously political criteria and the long delays which resulted from them were allowed to persist for nearly two years until the IG got involved.

Update: Morgenr tipped me this NY Times report dated 2/6/2010 which mentions the new Tea Party 501(c)(4) in the second paragraph:

Organizers of the convention announced on Friday that they were forming a
political action committee to raise money and provide political
consulting and campaign management for Tea Party-approved candidates.
The PAC, an offshoot of a newly incorporated 501c4 called Ensuring
Liberty, will seek to raise $10 million this year to spend in races in
the 2010 Congressional elections.

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