In February 2010, the Champaign Tea Party in Illinois received approval of its
tax-exempt status from the IRS in 90 days, no questions asked.
That was the month before the Internal Revenue Service started singling out Tea Party groups for special treatment. There wouldn't be another Tea Party application approved for 27 months.
In that time, the IRS approved perhaps dozens of applications from similar liberal and progressive groups, a USA TODAY review of IRS data shows.
As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with liberal-sounding names had their applications approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like "Progress" or "Progressive," the groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups. They included:
--Bus for Progress, a New Jersey non-profit that uses a red, white and blue bus to "drive the progressive change." According to its website, its mission includes "support (for) progressive politicians with the courage to serve the people's interests and make tough choices." It got an IRS approval as a social welfare group in April 2011.
--Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment says it fights against corporate welfare and for increasing the minimum wage. "It would be fair to say we're on the progressive end of the spectrum," Executive Director Jeff Ordower said. He said the group got tax-exempt status in September 2011 in just nine months after "a pretty simple, straightforward process."
--Progress Florida, granted tax-exempt status in January 2011, is lobbying the Florida Legislature to expand Medicaid under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, one of President Obama's signature accomplishments. The group did not return calls. "We're busy fighting to build a more progressive Florida and cannot take your call right now," the group's voice mail said.
Like the Tea Party groups, the liberal groups sought recognition as social welfare groups under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, based on activities such as "citizen participation" or "voter education."
In a conference call with reporters last week, the IRS official responsible for granting tax-exempt status said it was a mistake to subject Tea Party groups to additional scrutiny based solely on the organization's name. But she said ideology played no part in the process.
"The selection of these cases where they used the names was not a partisan selection," said Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations. She said progressive groups were also selected for greater scrutiny based on their names, but did not provide details. "I don't have them off the top of my head," Lerner said.
The IRS did not respond to follow-up questions Tuesday.
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