A former Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the agency’s targeting scandal may have been involved several years ago in drafting new restrictions on groups applying for tax-exempt status, according to an email released this week by the House Ways and Means Committee.
House Republicans said Wednesday that the IRS should reverse course on the proposed restrictions and start over, arguing that the involvement of Lois Lerner, the former IRS official who headed the division that oversees exempt organizations, has tainted the process.
Lerner set off the scandal when she publicly apologized in May for how the IRS had handled applications from conservative groups, later invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before ultimately resigning from the agency after the story grew.
In 2012, when the agency’s scrutiny of Tea Party groups was at its peak, it appears Lerner was involved in an email conversation with a Treasury Department official about imposing tougher rules on nonprofit groups.
“Don’t know who in your organizations is keeping tabs on c4s, but since we mentioned potentially addressing them (off-plan) in 2013, I’ve got my radar up and this seemed interesting,” Treasury official Ruth Madrigal said in an email dated June 14, 2012, referring to 501(c)4 tax-exempt groups.
Things that are discussed “off-plan” are commonly not published on the public schedule. They are private, unreported conversations.
Republicans said that the email, released to the public on Wednesday, raises serious questions about the integrity of the rules change process.
“If Treasury and the IRS fabricated the rationale for a rule change it would tend to raise questions about the integrity of the rule-making process,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).
For their part, Democratic lawmakers maintain that there is no proof that the extra scrutiny was politically motivated.
“It’s clear you’re trying to keep this issue alive for political purposes,” Rep. Sander Levin (D- Mich.) said.
But the communication between Lerner and the Treasury official has only intensified Republican lawmakers’ calls for a special investigation.
The rules were “drafted in a manner, in my view, to shut down Tea Party groups” Camp added.
“I want to be perfectly clear — this committee will fight any and all efforts to restrict the rights of groups to organize, speak out and educate the public, just as unions are allowed to do so. We will get to the bottom of this, and I expect the IRS to produce — quickly — the outstanding documents the committee has requested,” he said. “I believe the IRS has a long way to go in restoring its credibility. But, you can take a first step by complying with this committee’s request and stopping all action against 501(c)(4) groups until the appropriate investigations are completed.”
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