Issa report: IRS applied ‘systematic scrutiny’ only to conservative groups

A new report from the head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee tries to discredit Democratic claims that the Internal Revenue Service targeted both liberal and conservative groups for extra scrutiny during the past two election cycles.

“These Democratic claims are flat-out wrong and have no basis in any thorough examination of the facts,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the panel’s chairman, said in an executive summary of the findings.


Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). (Cliff Owens/ AP)

Before the 2010 election, the IRS began using “be on the lookout” lists, or BOLOs, to screen for groups that might be involved in too much political activity to qualify for tax-exempt status. An inspector general’s report last year found that the agency inappropriately singled out applicants based on their names and policy positions.

Issa’s report, released Monday, revealed that all three of the IRS’s test cases involved conservative organizations — the Prescott Tea Party, the American Hunto and the Albuquerque Tea Party. Two of the groups dropped their applications as the review process dragged on, according to the findings.

The report also contends that “only tea party applicants received systematic scrutiny because of their political beliefs,” even though the IRS screened for progressive groups as well.

The last BOLO that the IRS created included only conservative-sounding names, but Democrats have pointed out that earlier lists, as well as certain IRS training materials, advised employees to screen for names associated with liberal causes as well.

The report downplays the screening of left-leaning groups, saying the IRS pulled them aside “because of objective, non-political concerns, but not because of their political beliefs.”

Issa said the IRS only scrutinized affiliates of the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, known as ACORN, “out of concern that they were old organizations improperly applying as new ones.”

The chairman also said the IRS screened groups associated with Emerge America because “some had already been approved and the IRS became concerned about improper private benefit.”

The report highlights years-long delays that some conservative-leaning groups experienced as the IRS held up their applications. It noted that only seven organizations in the agency’s backlog contained the word “progressive,” and that the IRS ultimately approved those applications while tea party groups remained under review.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, accused Issa of “cherry picking evidence and simply disregarding documents that directly contradict his partisan narrative.”

“Chairman Issa has in his possession — right now — IRS documents that show definitively that both progressive and conservative groups were highlighted for scrutiny,” Cummings said in a statement on Monday.

The release of the report on Monday came three days before the House oversight committee is scheduled to vote on whether to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the agency’s targeting controversy.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks(at)washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, and The Fed Page for more federal news. Submit news tips and suggestions to federalworker@washpost.com.

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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