Four hundred sixty nine different plaintiffs in two class-action lawsuits over Obama-era IRS harassment settled with the Department of Justice Thursday, bringing to a close a dark chapter in the IRS’s history.
In 2010 and 2011, the IRS under Lois Lerner, particularly out of the Cincinnati field office, launched what many contended were politically motivated investigations and audits of “Tea Party” and other conservative groups. While no criminal prosecutions ever resulted, hundreds of victims assembled in class-action lawsuits against the federal government.
Attorney General Sessions appears to have largely acknowledged the plaintiffs’ claims. In a DOJ press release on the settlement, he said:
[I]t is now clear that during the last Administration, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to screen applications for 501(c) status. These criteria included names such as “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” or “9/12” or policy positions concerning government spending or taxes, education of the public to “make America a better place to live,” or statements criticizing how the country was being run. It is also clear these criteria disproportionately impacted conservative groups.
As a result of these criteria, the IRS transferred hundreds of applications to a specifically designated group of IRS agents for additional levels of review, questioning and delay. In many instances, the IRS then requested highly sensitive information from applicants, such as donor information, that was not needed to make a determination of tax-exempt status.
In March of last year, a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit criticized the Obama DOJ for its handling of the case, writing, “In this lawsuit the IRS has only compounded the conduct that gave rise to it.”
By contrast, Sessions said Thursday, “There is no excuse for this conduct. Hundreds of organizations were affected by these actions, and they deserve an apology from the IRS. We hope that today’s settlement makes clear that this abuse of power will not be tolerated.”
The terms of the settlement with the conservative groups is not yet clear.
The cases involved were Linchpins of Liberty, et al., v. United States of America, et al., No. 1:13-cv-00777-RBW and NorCal Tea Party Patriots v. Internal Revenue Service, et al., No. 1:13-cv-00341.