IRS scrutiny of conservative groups involved offices in D.C., California, Cincinnati

The Internal Revenue Service gave additional scrutiny to conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt status at various times between 2010 and 2012. Juliet Eilperin and Zachary Goldfarb report that the practice involved more of the agency’s staff than was previously revealed:

The effort reached well beyond the branch in Cincinnati that was initially blamed, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

IRS officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters sent queries to conservative groups asking about their donors and other aspects of their operations, while officials in the El Monte and Laguna Niguel offices in California sent similar questionnaires to tea-party-affiliated groups, the documents show . . .

Moreover, details of the IRS’s efforts to target conservative groups reached the highest levels of the agency in May 2012, far earlier than has been disclosed, according to Republican congressional aides briefed by the IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration ­(TIGTA) on the details of their reviews. (Read the complete article here.)

Wonkblog notes that the practices at the IRS are the result of vagueness in the law governing tax-exempt organizations, and that legislative action may be necessary:

A report due this week says the IRS targeted groups with names containing “tea party” and “patriot.”

Do we want a personnel outcome, a political outcome, or a policy outcome? Is the right endgame simply that some IRS employees get fired? That the Obama administration gets embarrassed? Or is that Congress tightens the language governing who does and doesn’t qualify for 501(c)4 status so that the IRS doesn’t have so much discretion — and career employees don’t resort to these confused tactics — when reviewing applications? Note that if we go the legislative route, we could either widen the 501(c)4 designation, making it clear that political groups qualify, or we could narrow it, making it clear that they don’t. (Continue reading here.)

Post opinion writer George Will compares the practices at the IRS to the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation:

The burglary occurred in 1972, the climax came in 1974, but 40 years ago this week — May 17, 1973 — the Senate Watergate hearings began exploring the nature of Richard Nixon’s administration. Now the nature of Barack Obama’s administration is being clarified as revelations about IRS targeting of conservative groups merge with myriad Benghazi mendacities . . .

It remains to be discovered whether the chief executive is guilty of more than an amazingly convenient failure to superintend the excesses of some executive-branch employees beyond the Allegheny Mountains. (Read the rest of the column here.)

Opinion writer Michael Gerson argues that the agency should have been more forthcoming:

In March 2012, the then-commissioner of the IRS, Doug Shulman, assured a congressional committee: “There’s absolutely no targeting.” But senior officials at the agency, according to a leaked IRS inspector general report, were briefed about the targeting as early as the summer of 2011. Now the agency has backtracked to this position: “IRS senior leadership was not aware of this level of specific details at the time of the March 2012 hearing.” It will probably take many further congressional hearings to explore the considerable gap between “absolutely no targeting” and “not aware of this level of specific details.”

The IRS has found few defenders, mainly because it is the IRS. Can you imagine the reception that similar arguments would receive if made to the IRS during an audit? “I was not aware of this level of specific details when I claimed that I absolutely deserved a massive tax deduction.” The IRS is granted the level of sympathy that it would display toward others. (Read the rest of the column here.)

In a press conference Monday, President Obama addressed the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of groups critical of government, and said, “I’ve got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it.” (The Washington Post)

At The Fix, Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan analyze how the agency’s actions will benefit Republicans politically.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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