Top Democrat Says Documents Show IRS Also Targeted Liberals

Newly released documents appear to further undermine the idea that Tea Party groups were the only ones given extra scrutiny by the IRS for potential political activity.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, obtained and has released a Power Point presentation and minutes from an IRS workshop on July 28, 2010, instructing agents to flag applications for tax-exempt status from “progressive” groups as well as those with “Tea Party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their names. Another document shows that “Occupy” groups were later added to a list of organizations to be tapped for extra scrutiny.

In a letter to committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Cummings says these documents “raise serious questions about the Inspector General’s report, his testimony before Congress, and his subsequent assertions in letters to Members of Congress.”

The Treasury Department inspector general’s audit found the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” that singled out “Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions” rather than looking at their activities. Groups seeking 501(c)(4) tax exempt status can engage in only a limited amount of campaign activity. And those seeking charitable 501(c)(3) status can’t get involved in campaigns at all. In testimony and subsequent letters to members of Congress, Inspector General J. Russell George said his team found no evidence that “progressives” was a term used to refer cases for potential scrutiny.

The new documents seem to provide evidence to the contrary, though it’s not clear whether investigators reviewed them as part of the audit. (We’ll update this post when and if the Inspector General’s office responds to requests for comment.)

When the audit was released in mid-May, Republicans and Democrats alike were quick to express their outrage. But it didn’t take long for some Republicans, including Issa, to go further and accuse President Obama of using the IRS to target his political enemies. It’s a claim that hasn’t yet been proven by any evidence made publicly available.

Cummings also released an e-mail from the Deputy Inspector General for Investigations that was sent May 3 to a number of officials at the Inspector General’s office. They reviewed about 5,000 emails between IRS employees involved in the flagging of Tea Party groups. The mission was to find out “if an e-mail existed that directed the staff to “target” Tea Party and other political organizations.

Here’s what he found, according to the email:

“Review of these e-mails revealed that there was a lot of discussion between the employees on how to process the Tea Party and other political organization applications. There was a Be On the Lookout (BOLO) list specifically naming these groups; however, the e-mails indicated the organizations needed to be pulled because the IRS employees were not sure how to process them, not because they wanted to stall or hinder the application. There was no indication that pulling these selected applications was politically motivated. The e-mail traffic indicated there were unclear processing directions and the group wanted to make sure they had guidance on processing the applications so they pulled them. This is a very important nuance.”

Issa has called a hearing Thursday to explore “The IRS’s Systematic Delay and Scrutiny of Tea Party Applications.” It will look at the relationship between IRS employees in the Cincinnati field office, which was in charge of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status, and those in Washington, D.C. Based on interview transcripts reviewed by NPR, that’s where the hangup seems to have been, causing delays in application reviews stretching for years.

As a result of these new documents, Cummings objects to the whole premise of the hearing. And he wants Issa to call George to testify and explain why he didn’t mention any of this evidence in previous appearances before the committee.

No word yet on whether Issa will put the inspector general on the witness list.

A spokesman for Issa says these documents show that although both progressive and Tea Party groups were flagged for review by IRS agents, the Tea Party groups were treated differently. He points to a line in the meeting notes that says “‘Progressive’ applications are not ‘Tea Parties.’ “

The spokesman says in an e-mail:

“These documents, once again, refute misleading attempts to equate routine scrutiny of other groups involved in advocacy to the systematic scrutiny of Tea Party groups by IRS officials. As has been documented, while 100% of Tea Party applications were systematically stopped and scrutinized for a 27 month period, at the same time dozens of progressive applications were approved by the IRS.”

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