IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

At the same time it was subjecting conservative groups to inappropriate scrutiny and delays, the Internal Revenue Service may have been doing the same to liberal groups, according to a new report.

The report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration looked at the same period as an audit in 2013 that found that using inappropriate criteria led the IRS to target conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status (see “TIGTA: Ineffective management led to targeting Tea Party groups”), but used a broader range of criteria to examine case selection.

The new report says that, from 2004 to 2013, the IRS had as many as 259 criteria for identifying tax-exempt applications for further review, most of which were not related to politics, such as potential fraud, abuse, or links to terrorism. The current audit focused on 17 specific criteria selected by congressional committee staff, the IRS itself, and from IRS training documents that weren’t available to TIGTA during its 2013 audit.

The 17 criteria, which were included in IRS “be on the lookout” listings and training documents in 2010-2012, included organizations that were successors to ACORN, a liberal group that had collapsed following a video scandal in 2009, as well as those interested in medical marijuana and green energy, and those with “Occupy” or “Progressive” in their names or policy positions.

The current audit identified over 900 cases from 2004 to 2013 that might have been chosen for review, and determined that 181 of those had evidence of political activities or potential political campaign intervention. Of those, 146 cases were processed either based on the 17 criteria (83 cases), or were processed while the criteria were in use (63 cases).

The 2013 revelation that the IRS had been targeting conservative group led to the resignation of Lois Lerner, who had been director of the Exempt Organizations unit, and sparked a number of congressional investigations, as well as years of animosity between congressional Republicans and the agency.

TIGTA noted that its new report did not include any recommendations; a separate report that it released in 2015 found that the IRS had implemented a number of improvements to its processes to protect against improperly targeting particular groups. (See “Inspector general finds IRS has improved process of tax-exempt applications.”)

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Daniel Hood

Daniel Hood

Daniel Hood is editor-in-chief of Accounting Today and Tax Pro Today, and has covered the tax and accounting field for over 20 years.