FEC chair requests probe of agency’s ties with IRS

The Federal Election Commission’s lead member has called for an inspector general’s review to help determine whether the FEC coordinated with the Internal Revenue Service in targeting groups based on their political beliefs.

FEC chairman Ellen L. Weintraub said her decision came in response to a request last week from Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), the head of the House Administration Committee, who asked the agency to hand over all of its communications with the IRS since 2008.

Reps. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Charles Boustany (D-La.) made a similar request to acting IRS chief Daniel Werfel after publishing e-mails showing that Lois Lerner, the embattled former head of the agency’s exempt-organizations division, acknowledged possibly telling an FEC lawyer that a group did not appear on a publicly available list of tax-exempt groups.

Federal law prohibits the IRS from releasing information about organizations that have been denied, but it can publish information about approved groups.

(Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
(Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

The FEC attorney wrote to Lerner on Feb. 3, 2009, saying she “told us that the American Future Fund had not received an exemption letter from the IRS.” He then asked whether the agency had issued an exemption letter to the group since his last contact with the IRS official.

“What can we do to help the FEC here?” Lerner asked other IRS employees in an e-mail. “I’m a little confused about his statement that I told him the org had not received exemption — it may be that they hadn’t mentioned it was a [501(c)(3)} and I told them the org didn't show up on [the list of tax-exempt groups].”

Lerner’s attorney, William W. Taylor, insisted last week that his client had done nothing wrong by talking about whether a group appeared on the list.

Democrats have described the controversy as just another GOP accusation about the Obama administration’s behavior toward conservative groups. “Republicans are throwing mud against the wall with hope that something will stick,” said Josh Drobnyk, spokesman for the Democrat side of the House Ways and Means Committee, in a statement to the Post last week.

Weintraub indicated in a letter to Miller on Tuesday that the FEC is working to produce the documents requested by the congresswoman, adding that she personally had “never seen any indication of any motivation on their part beyond the desire to fairly administer and enforce the law.”

The IRS issued a statement last week saying the agency “takes its obligation to protect confidential taxpayer information very seriously” and that it will “fully review and respond to the request” from Camp and Boustany.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-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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