The number two Internal Revenue Service official was in direct contact with Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) about scrutinizing tea party and conservative groups throughout the 2012 election, according to documents made available Wednesday.
In this May 22, 2013, file photo, then-IRS official Lois Lerner is sworn in on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the House Oversight Committee hearing to investigate the extra scrutiny IRS gave to tea party and other conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
IRS letters and e-mails obtained by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch seem to challenge the Obama administration’s insistence that the tax agency’s targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups was the fault of the regional office in Cincinnati.
Levin, the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, wrote a series of letters in 2012 to the IRS demanding the agency probe the political activity of several nonprofits and whether that political activity should preclude them from exempt status.
Then-Deputy IRS Commissioner Steven Miller responded directly to Levin on June 4 saying that IRS regulations are flexible enough to allow IRS agency to “prepare individualized questions and requests” for select nonprofits. He then goes on to explain what standards may and may not be used.
“There is no standard questionnaire used to obtain information about political activities,” Miller wrote to Levin. “Although there is a template development letter that describes the general information on the case development process, the letter does not specify the information to be requested from any particular organization … Consequently, revenue agents prepare individualized questions and requests for documents relevant to the application.”
Miller became the acting commissioner of the IRS in later 2012, but after the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration first revealed the IRS was inappropriately targeting Tea Party groups, he resigned.
“These new documents show that officials in the IRS headquarters were responsible for the illegal delays of Tea Party applications,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. He added, “These documents also confirm the unprecedented pressure from congressional Democrats to go after President Obama’s political opponents. The IRS scandal has now ensnared Congress.”
In another exchange, Levin wrote on Sept. 27, 2012 that asked for copies of answers to IRS questions on the exempt applications fees of Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity and Patriot Majority USA – all conservative groups. He also asked about one liberal group, Obama superPAC Priorities USA.
In an Oct. 17, 2012 response, Miller said that AFP and Patriot Majority were approved, but IRS had no records on Crossroads or Priorities USA.
“As discussed in our previous responses dated June 4, 2012, and August 24, 2012, the IRS cannot legally disclose whether the organizations on your list have applied for tax exemptions unless and until such application is approved,” Miller wrote.
The documents also show Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS Exempt Organizations unit, explaining to investigators criteria developed for the “be on the lookout” list (BOLO) weeks before the release of the inspector general report.
“The screening group manager asked his employees how they were applying the BOLO's short –hand reference to ‘tea party,’” wrote Lerner in an April 2, 2013 e-mail. “His employees responded that they were including organizations meeting any of the following criteria as falling within the BOLO's reference to "tea party" organizations: "1. 'Tea Party', 'Patriots' or '9/12 Project' is referenced in the case file. 2. Issues include government spending, government debt and taxes. 3. Educate the public through advocacy/legislative activities to make America a better place to live. 4. Statements in the case file that are critical of the how the country is being run.”
The House recently voted to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress for her refusal to cooperate with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“It is disturbing to see Lois Lerner mislead the IRS’ internal investigators about her office’s Tea Party targeting,” Fitton said.