IRS pa­pers con­tra­dict Lerner story

Af­ter year of scan­dal, some still await re­ply

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN AND S.A. MILLER

A year af­ter a scorch­ing au­dit re­vealed that the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice tar­geted tea party groups for in­tru­sive scru­tiny, and de­spite an ef­fort to clean house at the agency, many of those groups are still await­ing ap­proval for tax-ex­empt sta­tus.

Mean­while, documents re­leased Wed­nes­day — a year to the day af­ter the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s au­dit — sig­nal in­ten­sive in­volve­ment of IRS em­ploy­ees in Wash­ing­ton, con­tra­dict­ing the early story by agency em­ploy­ees that the prob­lems stemmed from overzeal­ous em­ploy­ees in the Cincin­nati of­fice.

As the IRS scan­dal en­ters its sec­ond year, con­gres­sional over­sight continues, but the agency faces in­creas­ing pres­sure from other av­enues, in­clud­ing law­suits meant to force the agency to ap­prove some of those longstalled ap­pli­ca­tions.

“We still don’t have the com­plete pic­ture of what took place. We have a much bet­ter idea than we did a year ago, but the scope, depth and breadth of it is go­ing to [emerge] in con­text of the lit­i­ga­tion,” said Jay Seku­low, chief coun­sel at the Amer­i­can Cen­ter for Law and Jus­tice, which is rep­re­sent­ing sev­eral dozen groups that have tan­gled with the IRS over their non­profit ap­pli­ca­tions.

The cen­ter says it has 11 client or­ga­ni­za­tions await­ing de­ci­sions on their ap­pli­ca­tions, at least one of them stretch­ing back five years. An­other 24 of the groups it rep­re­sents were ap­proved af­ter de­lays, five with­drew their ap­pli­ca­tions out of frus­tra­tion with the process, and one was de­nied af­ter re­fus­ing to an­swer prob­ing IRS ques­tions.

The IRS didn’t re­turn a mes­sage Wed­nes­day seek­ing the num­ber of other groups await­ing ap­proval.

Last week, IRS Com­mis­sioner John Kosk­i­nen said a “hand­ful” were out­stand­ing. He said part of the prob­lem was that some of those groups sued to try to force the IRS to act, which as a re­sult de­layed their ap­pli­ca­tions.

“Of the more or less 145 back­logged or­ga­ni­za­tions a year ago when the is­sue was raised, 90 per­cent of those have been cleared through. So we’re down to a rel­a­tively small num­ber. Some are su­ing us, so, you know, it de­pends on what the process of the lit­i­ga­tion is,” he told Congress.

Mr. Seku­low said his ex­pla­na­tion was not true and that the IRS could ap­prove ap­pli­ca­tions even with law­suits pend­ing.

Mr. Kosk­i­nen, tes­ti­fy­ing to Congress, said he thinks some of the groups filed law­suits “be­cause it keeps the is­sue alive longer.” He said his agency has reached out and tried to re­solve le­git­i­mate is­sues as quickly as it could.

The IRS tried to stream­line the process, of­fer­ing groups in the back­log a deal: They could gain im­me­di­ate ap­proval if they agree to limit pol­i­tics to 40 per­cent of their ac­tiv­ity.

Some groups took the deal, but Mr. Seku­low and oth­ers ar­gued that was sur­ren­der­ing rights, given that cur­rent in­ter­pre­ta­tions for other groups al­low just less than half of ac­tiv­i­ties to be po­lit­i­cal.

Mr. Seku­low said the IRS is be­ing con­tra­dic­tory. Af­ter of­fer­ing the 40 per­cent deal, he said, the agency pro­posed to ban all pol­i­tick­ing for tax-ex­empt groups, in­clud­ing can­di­date fo­rums and voter guides in the days be­fore federal elec­tions.

Those pro­posed rules drew a record num­ber of com­ments, most of them ve­he­mently op­posed, and are still be­ing pro­cessed by the IRS and the Trea­sury Depart­ment.

Mr. Kosk­i­nen has said the pro­posed rules would not ap­ply to this year’s elec­tions.

Ju­di­cial Watch, a pub­lic in­ter­est law firm, re­leased documents Wed­nes­day that it ob­tained un­der open-records re­quests from the IRS that it said showed the tar­get­ing was over­seen by Wash­ing­ton. That con­tra­dicts for­mer IRS em­ployee Lois G. Lerner’s ini­tial claim that the prob­lem was cen­tered in the agency’s Cincin­nati of­fice.

“These new documents show that of­fi­cials in the IRS head­quar­ters were re­spon­si­ble for the il­le­gal de­lays of Tea Party ap­pli­ca­tions,” said Ju­di­cial Watch Pres­i­dent Tom Fit­ton.

The documents also de­tail re­peated ef­forts by Sen. Carl Levin, Michi­gan Demo­crat, to get the IRS to take a look at non­profit groups’ po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, and IRS replies.

In one of those replies, the IRS said it had lee­way in de­cid­ing what ques­tions to ask ap­pli­cants and ac­knowl­edged it didn’t have a set pe­riod for clos­ing cases.

Mr. Levin said his ef­forts to find out more about how the IRS was han­dling these ap­pli­ca­tions — in­clud­ing a spe­cific re­quest for de­tails about 12 groups, most of which were con­ser­va­tive — has been pub­lic for some time.

“Those letters have been on my web­site for over a year. We’ve urged the IRS to en­force the law against both con­ser­va­tive and lib­eral groups,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “Even the tapes we sent to the IRS were both Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can TV com­mer­cials. We sent them both. It’s about time they en­force the law against both.”


IRS Com­mis­sioner John Kosk­i­nen, tes­ti­fy­ing to Congress, said he thinks some of the groups filed law­suits “be­cause it keeps the is­sue alive longer.” He said his agency has reached out and tried to re­solve le­git­i­mate is­sues as quickly as it could.

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