IRS released confidential info on conservative groups to ProPublica

ProPublica on Monday reported that the same IRS division that targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny during the 2012 election cycle provided the investigative-reporting organization with confidential applications for tax-exempt status.

That revelation contradicts previous statements from the agency and may represent a violation of federal guidelines. Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS sector that reviews tax-exemption applications, told a congressional oversight committee in April 2012 that IRS code prohibited the agency from providing information about groups that had not yet been approved.

Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) had asked Lerner in March 2012 to provide a list of all organizations that the IRS had subjected to special scrutiny.

(Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)
(Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Lerner replied that she could not legally reveal information about groups that were not approved and that identifying targeted applicants that were already approved would require additional work, specifically a “manual review of each file.” She did not identify any of the organizations.

Below is an excerpt of Lerner’s response:

“Section 6104(a) of the Code permits public disclosure of an application for recognition of tax exempt status and supporting materials only after the organization has been recognized as exempt. Consequently, we cannot provide a list of organizations that have received [additional scrutiny] from the IRS, until those applications have been approved.”

ProPublica reported that the Lerner’s division released “nine pending confidential applications of conservatives groups” in response to a request from the investigative-reporting organization for the applications of 67 nonprofits in November 2012.

Lerner apologized on Friday for actions her sector took to single out conservative groups for special scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.

Documents from an inspector general’s report due for release this week show that the IRS also targeted groups with names containing the phrases “tea party” or “patriot,” in addition to 9/12 Project — founded by conservative political commentator Glenn Beck — and organizations that criticized the government or aimed to educate people about the Constitution.

IRS officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved with investigating the groups, making clear that the effort reached well beyond the branch in Cincinnati that was initially blamed, according to a report in Tuesday’s Washington Post.

IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman testified on the targeting issue before a House Ways and Means subcommittee in March 2012, adamantly denying that the IRS singled out groups for special scrutiny. “There’s absolutely no targeting,” he said. “This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people [who apply for tax-exempt status.]”

Shulman’s testimony came nearly 10 months after Lerner instructed her division to change its search criteria.

For more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comE-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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