IRS admits to targeting tea party groups

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman says groups deserve more than an apology.

The Internal Revenue Service Friday admitted to targeting tea party groups during the 2010 and 2012 elections for extra scrutiny, saying “mistakes were made” in the handling of those organizations’ applications for tax-exempt status.

The IRS apology came after complaints from tea party organizations including the Ohio Liberty Council that they were being asked to provide information including Facebook statuses and whether board members or their family members had run for office or planned to. Tea party organizations said they were being asked to provide information that other 501 (c) (4) tax-exempt organizations were not.

Both Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, questioned how tea party group applications were being handled, with both sending letters separately to the IRS complaining that the IRS was unfairly targeting the conservative organizations.

Portman Friday said the IRS “owes conservative groups far more than a mere apology for their unfair treatment.”

“This overt and excessive harassment of groups targeted for their political beliefs is despicable, and many questions remain,” he said. “How were ‘low-level workers in Cincinnati’ able to initiate practices that completely undermine the IRS’ promise to treat all groups with an even hand? Even more, what were they hoping to do with the copious personal information they obtained from these groups?”

The tax-exempt 501 (c) (4) organizations expanded wildly between 2010 and 2012, part of an influx of outside money into election season. Because they are reviewed by the IRS rather than the Federal Election Commission, such groups face less stringent requirements that they disclose their donors.

Lois Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt groups for the IRS, told reporters Friday that some 75 groups were singled out using words like “tea party” or “patriot” in tax documents.

In a separate statement, the IRS said the questions were the result of a Cincinnati-based effort to centralize work on the influx of new 501 (c) (4) applications during the 2010 and 2012 political season “in an effort to promote consistency and quality.” The agency said it fixed the situation last year and has put in place new procedures to make sure similar mistakes do not occur in the future.

“The IRS recognizes we should have done a better job of handling the influx of advocacy applications,” the agency said in a statement released to the press. “While centralizing cases for consistency made sense, the way we initially centralized them did not.”

The agency said it has fixed the way it handles such applications and the mistakes “were in no way due to any political or partisan rationale.”

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