News Column

IRS Head Kept Mum on Tea Party Targeting

May 15, 2013

Stephen Ohlemacher

Acting Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Steven T. Miller failed to tell Congress that tea party groups were being inappropriately targeted, even after he had been briefed on the matter.

The IRS said Monday that Miller was first informed on May 3, 2012, that applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups were inappropriately singled out for extra, sometimes burdensome scrutiny.

On June 15, 2012, Miller wrote a member of Congress to explain the process of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status without mentioning the controversy.

Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., had raised concerns with the IRS about complaints that tea party groups were being harassed. Boustany specifically mentioned tea party groups in his inquiry.

But Miller gave a generic response. He said that when the IRS saw an increase in applications from groups that were involved in political activity, the agency "took steps to coordinate the handling of the case to ensure consistency."

He added that agents worked with tax law experts "to develop approaches and materials that could be helpful to the agents working the cases."

Miller did not mention that in 2011, those materials included a list of words to watch for, such as "tea party" and "patriot." He also didn't disclose that in January 2012, the criteria for additional screening was updated to include references to the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

"They repeatedly failed to disclose and be truthful about what they were doing," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Camp's committee is holding a hearing on the issue Friday, and Miller is scheduled to testify.

"We are going to need to find out how much he knew," Camp said of Miller.

The Senate Finance Committee announced Monday that it will join a growing list of congressional committees investigating the matter.

"We need to know who knew what, and exactly what mistakes were made," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee. "The American people have questions for the IRS, and I intend to get answers."

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.

The agency blamed low-level employees in a Cincinnati office, saying no high-level officials were aware.

When members of Congress repeatedly raised concerns with the IRS about complaints that tea party groups were being harassed last year, a deputy IRS commissioner took the lead in assuring lawmakers that the additional scrutiny was a legitimate part of the screening process.

That deputy commissioner was Miller, who is now the acting head of the agency.

In several letters to members of Congress, Miller went into painstaking detail about how applications for tax-exempt status were screened. But he never mentioned that conservative groups were being targeted.

Only one of Miller's letters obtained by the Associated Press came after his May 2012 briefing. However, many people working under him knew as early as June 2011 that tea party groups were being targeted, according to an upcoming report by the agency's inspector general.

The IRS issued a statement Monday saying that Miller had been briefed on May 3, 2012, "that some specific applications were improperly identified by name and sent to the (exempt organizations) centralized processing unit for further review." That was the unit in Cincinnati that handled the tea party applications.

On June 29, 2011, Lois G. Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, learned at a meeting that groups were being targeted, according to a draft of the report by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

At the meeting, Lerner was told that groups with "Tea Party," ''Patriot" or "9/12 Project" in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny, the report says. Lerner instructed agents to change the criteria for flagging groups "immediately."

However, when Lerner responded to inquiries from the House oversight committee, she didn't mention the fact that tea party groups had ever been targeted.

Miller became acting IRS commissioner in November, after Commissioner Douglas Shulman completed his five-year term. Shulman had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

Shulman was adamant that conservative groups were not targeted when he testified before a Ways and Means subcommittee in March 2012.

Originally published by STEPHEN OHLEMACHER Associated Press.

(c) 2013 Tulsa World. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.




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Source: Copyright Tulsa World 2013


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