Apparently inspired by the press’ negative coverage of the Tea Party, Internal Revenue Service employees were instructed to flag political groups seeking tax-exempt status if they touted literature containing “anti-Obama rhetoric” and “emotional” statements, according to recently uncovered agency documents obtained by USA Today.
The 2011 documents list 162 flagged groups by name and reveal that IRS lawyers in the nation’s capital often questioned the political, lobbying and advocacy activities of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Twenty-one of those 162 cases were characterized as “propaganda.”
The IRS has not yet listed which groups were flagged, citing rules in the tax code which prohibit it from revealing sensitive taxpayer data.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represents 23 of the groups on the IRS’ target list, said the new documents appears to be “the most powerful evidence yet of a coordinated effort” by the federal agency to target conservative groups.
“The political motivations of this are so patently obvious, but then to have a document that spells it out like this is very damaging to the IRS,” Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the ACLJ, told USA Today. “I hope the FBI has seen these documents.”
Five groups in total were flagged for having “anti-Obama” rhetoric on their applications or websites. At least one of those groups was granted tax-exempt status in 2012.
Three groups were flagged for being connected to Republican politicians including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
At least one progressive group was flagged for having “anti-[Texas Republican Gov.] Rick Perry” rhetoric on its applications or website. That group received tax exempt status in September 2012.
It also appears that conservative groups were singled out by the IRS because “they were likely to attract media attention,” according to a report by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
The interim report, which was released on Tuesday by House investigators, does not show that IRS agents were specifically ordered by politicians to target conservative groups. But the report suggests the IRS may have been inspired by anti-conservative rhetoric from certain politicians and the media.
“As prominent politicians publicly urged the IRS to take action on tax-exempt groups engaged in legal campaign intervention activities, the IRS treated tea party applications differently,” the report states. “Applications filed by tea party groups were identified and grouped due to media attention surrounding the existence of the Tea Party in general.”
Special investigators claim media coverage of conservative groups inspired the political targeting.
“It was my understanding that the reason they were identified is because they were likely to attract media attention,” one of the employees in the exempt organizations division told investigators.
Left-leaning groups were usually approved quickly for tax-exempt status, investigators said. Certain conservative groups, on the other hand, are still awaiting approval.
“Despite repeated attempts to conflate the issues and downplay the IRS’s treatment of conservative-oriented applications, the facts are clear that the IRS systematically processed conservative-oriented applications in a wholly disparate and unique manner,” the investigators concluded. “The treatment received by Tea Party applicants was unprecedented for tax-exempt applicants engaged in political activity.”
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
Featured image Getty Images.