IRS Office Targeting Conservatives Also Gave ProPublica Confidential Information on Groups

President Barack Obama listens as British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks, during their joint news conference, Monday, May 13, 2013, in the East Room of the White House in Washington where they talked about various topics including Syria’s civil war to the IRS. (Photo: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

In addition to to unfairly targeting Tea Party and conservative groups last year, it has also been revealed that the same IRS office disclosed confidential information from conservative groups, which was then made public by a media organization.

ProPublica reported IRS’ Cincinnati office sent it 31 applications in its request for information about 67 nonprofits, which were part of its investigation to show “how dozens of social-welfare nonprofits had misled the IRS about their political activity on their applications and tax returns.” Nine of these applications were not yet approved, which the non-profit newsroom that focuses on investigative journalism in public interest said would mean they were still confidential. ProPublica made information regarding these organizations public last year, redacting financial information, because “they were newsworthy.”

Here’s more from ProPublica regarding the information it received:

One of the applications the IRS released to ProPublica was from Crossroads GPS, the largest social-welfare nonprofit involved in the 2012 election. The group, started in part by GOP consultant Karl Rove, promised the IRS that any effort to influence elections would be “limited.” The group spent more than $70 million from anonymous donors in 2012.

Applications were sent to ProPublica from five other social welfare groups that had told the IRS that they wouldn’t spend money to sway elections.  The other groups ended up spending more than $5 million related to the election, mainly to support Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Much of that money was spent by the Arizona group Americans for Responsible Leadership. The remaining four groups that told the IRS they wouldn’t engage in political spending were Freedom Path, Rightchange.com II, America Is Not Stupid and A Better America Now.

The IRS also sent ProPublica the applications of three small conservative groups that told the agency that they would spend some money on politics: Citizen Awareness Project, the YG Network and SecureAmericaNow.org. (No unapproved applications from liberal groups were sent to ProPublica.)

As for the unapproved information it received — applications only become public after the IRS grants official nonprofit, tax-exempt status — ProPublic reports that at the time it “tried to determine why they had been sent” and noted that through emails it learned from the IRS that they shouldn’t have been turned over in the first place.

“It has come to our attention that you are in receipt of application materials of organizations that have not been recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt,” ProPublica recalled IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge writing in an email and including that publishing this unauthorized information could lead to a fine or imprisonment.

But ProPublica went forward with publishing what it received and redacted financial information because it “believes that the information we are publishing is not barred by the statute cited by the IRS,” Richard Tofel, ProPublica’s general manager at the time and now president, wrote in response.

The Washington Post pointed out that Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, also called upon this code in a congressional oversight committee meeting in April 2012 when Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked Lerner for a list of all organizations being evaluated by the IRS.

“Section 6104(a) of the Code permits public disclosure of an application for recognition of tax exempt status and supporting materials only after the organization has been recognized as exempt,” the Post reported from an excerpt of Lerner’s response. “Consequently, we cannot provide a list of organizations that have received [additional scrutiny] from the IRS, until those applications have been approved.”

IRS Office Targeting Conservatives Also Gave ProPublica Confidential Information on Groups

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Friday, May, 10, 2013. Carney responded on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, calling on top-to-bottom review of the Obama administration after the IRS admitted that it had targeted conservative groups during the 2012 election. (Photo: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The IRS apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was “inappropriate” targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see whether they were violating their tax-exempt status. In some cases, the IRS acknowledged, agents inappropriately asked for lists of donors.

ProPublica noted how the IRS seemed to have changed who responds to requests for nonprofit applications this year.

“Previously, the IRS asked journalists to fax requests to a number with a 513 area code — which includes Cincinnati. ProPublica sent a request by fax on Feb. 5 to the Ohio area code. On March 13, that request was answered by David Fish, a director of Exempt Organizations Guidance, in Washington, D.C.,” ProPublica wrote. In a second instance, it received a new fax number with a 202 area code, which is for Washington, D.C.

ProPublica reached out to its contacts at this office in the IRS for comment but did not receive a response as of Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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