Democrats Present New Evidence of IRS Scrutiny of Progressive Groups

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The ranking Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee ranking member, Sander Levin, D-Mich., released new information Tuesday from the Internal Revenue Service to provide further evidence that progressive groups were singled out for scrutiny as were conservative groups.

The documents include an IRS training presentation that instructs IRS employees to screen tax-exemption applications for Democratic leaning “Emerge” organizations alongside “progressive” and “tea party” organizations. The term “emerge” was redacted in the presentation when it was originally released by the IRS in early July.

Three organizations tied to the national Emerge America organization – Emerge Nevada, Emerge Maine and Emerge Massachusetts – were all denied 501 (c)(4) status in 2011, according to a New York Times report (see IRS Revokes Political Group's Tax-Exempt Status). The new documents also include more unredacted information on the “Be On the Look Out,” or BOLO, lists showing that screeners were instructed to give heightened scrutiny to “ACORN successor” organizations. The IRS has since eliminated the use of the BOLO lists.

Levin and the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Elijah Cummings, D-Md., have long requested that the IRS and TIGTA disclose the documents released publicly on Tuesday.

“Once again it is clear that the Inspector General's report left out critical information that skewed the audit's findings and set the stage for Republicans to make completely baseless accusations in an effort to tarnish the White House,” Levin said in a statement. “These new documents make it clear the IRS scrutiny of the political activity of 501(c)(4) organizations covered a broad spectrum of political ideology and was not politically motivated.  Republicans should stop trying to twist the facts to fit a faulty ‘enemies list’ narrative and instead join in the effort to fix the mismanagement problems at the IRS tax-exempt division as I have called for since day one.”

The documents released Tuesday indicate that the IRS instructed its screeners to single out for heightened scrutiny “Emerge” organizations and "ACORN successors.” These documents include updated IRS screening workshop materials that list "Emerge" alongside "Patriots" and "9/12" organizations, a presentation that the IRS released in early July but until now redacted the term “Emerge.”  The documents also include updated BOLO lists and IRS training materials instructing screeners to watch for ACORN successors. 

“This new information should put a nail in the coffin of the Republican claims that the IRS's actions were politically motivated or were targeted at only one side of the political spectrum,” said Cummings.  “It is time for House Republicans to stop trying to score political points and start to focus on reforming the IRS.”

Among the new documents made public Monday are an IRS Letter to Levin from Monday, August 19, 2013, along with several IRS training documents instruct screeners to watch for terms “Emerge” and “ACORN successors,” such as a Screening Workshop PowerPoint from July 28, 2010, Screening Workshop notes from July 28, 2010, and a Heightened Awareness Issues PowerPoint presentation. Also made newly public are BOLO lists that include the term “ACORN successors."

Levin and Cummings noted that in September 2009, TIGTA, at the request of House Ovesight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., agreed to investigate whether ACORN or its affiliates engaged in potential political activities.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s audit report, issued in May, stated that Tea Party groups were "targeted" by the IRS for heightened scrutiny for potential political activities, but failed to mention that progressive groups were also screened for additional scrutiny based on similarly inappropriate criteria and also suffered from significant delays, Levin’s office noted. But, a 2010 PowerPoint presentation used images of a donkey and an elephant to instruct IRS screeners to look for the term “progressive” alongside “tea party” when reviewing tax-exempt applications further.

On June 26, 2013, TIGTA stated in a letter to Levin that “we did not find any evidence that the criteria you identified labeled ‘Progressives’ were used by the IRS to select potential political cases during the 2010 to 2012 timeframe we audited.”  However, the information in this letter was subsequently amended by TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George after it was brought to his attention that the first letter contained inaccurate statements.

On July 17, 2013, Levin urged TIGTA to stop blocking the release of the common word used by a group of Democratic-leaning organizations that were treated like the Tea Party organizations and stated that it is "imperative that the Inspector General operate in a non-partisan manner and be completely forthcoming with the Congress and the American people.”

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