The Internal Revenue Service has said that the extra scrutiny given to conservative groups was an attempt to deal with an influx of applications. But as the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Atlantic have said — and as Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.) pointed out during today's hearing — that surge didn't happen until well after the targeting began.
According to numbers provided to the Treasury Inspector General and used in his report, there were 1,751 501(c)(4) applications in 2009 and 1,735 in 2010. That grew to 2,265 in 2011 and 3,357 in 2012. But the report found that the targeting of groups with tea party-linked phrases in their names began in March of 2010.
"Between 2010 and 2012 we started seeing a very big uptick in the number of 501(c)(4) applications we were receiving and many of these organizations applying more than doubled, about 1500 in 2010 and over 3400 in 2012," IRS’s exempt-organizations division director Lois Lerner said last Friday. "So we saw a big increase in these kind of applications, many of which indicated that they were going to be involved in advocacy work."
When Young asked outgoing acting commissioner Steven Miller about the discrepancy during this Friday's Ways and Means Committee hearing, Miller said that there may have been a jump between 2008 and 2009. We don't have those numbers, but that's also not what Lerner said.
Update: The Factchecker explains that the IG report uses fiscal year rather than calendar year numbers; if you calculate by calendar year there was a slight increase from 2009 to 2010. But the real jump still comes later.