A pair of House Republican lawmakers, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and House Oversight Subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany Jr., M.D., R-La., have written to Internal Revenue Service principal deputy commissioner Daniel Werfel calling on him to immediately stop the IRS from continuing to target Tea Party applications based on name alone, but Democrats are disputing the charges.
As part of its investigation into the IRS’s targeting of individuals based on their personal beliefs, a committee interview with an IRS employee revealed that IRS screeners continue to flag certain applications for exempt status for secondary scrutiny on the basis of name alone, regardless of whether there is any evidence of political activity, according to Camp and Boustany.
They quoted excerpts from the interview:
Q: If you saw—I am asking this currently, if today if a Tea Party case, a group—a case from a Tea Party group came in to your desk, you reviewed the file and there was no evidence of political activity, would you potentially approve that case? Is that something you would do?
A: At this point I would send it to secondary screening, political advocacy.
Q: So you would treat a Tea Party group as a political advocacy case even if there was no evidence of political activity on the application. Is that right?
A: Based on my current manager's direction, uh-huh.
The news comes after President Obama installed new IRS leadership and pledged that the IRS would “put in place new safeguards to make sure this kind of behavior cannot happen again.”
In their letter to Werfel, Camp and Boustany demanded Monday that the IRS immediately issue instructions to all employees making it clear that applications for exempt status shall not be subjected to higher scrutiny based on organization name or substantive beliefs.
The lawmakers called on the IRS to provide notice to its employees that any such targeting will be subject to discipline and referral to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for investigation.
However, a leading Democrat on their committee, Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sander Levin, D-Mich., released additional excerpts Monday from the same interview with the IRS agent, including parts not disclosed by Camp and Boustany that seem to contradict the claim of Tea Party targeting.
Committee: Today, currently, how do you analyze advocacy cases? If, for example, Tea Party of Arkansas came in today, how would you handle it?
IRS agent: Well, the BOLO list doesn't exist anymore.
IRS agent: If a political advocacy case came in today, I would give it—or talk about it to my manager because right now we really don't have any direction or we haven't had any for the last month and a half.
Committee: Yeah. If you see a case today, and there is no reference to "Tea Party," but the applicant organization indicates in its application, the 1024, that it is going to engage in political activity, what would you do with that case?
IRS agent: I would send it to the secondary screening, political advocacy.
Committee: Okay. So you wouldn't take that case to your manager, would you?
IRS agent: Well, I don't know that the policy, well, if I saw one now, I would.
Committee: You would bring it to your manager?
IRS agent: The reason being, I would want her concurrence that this, see, with the BOLO gone, I want to make sure I do the right thing when I am looking at a case. I would want to make sure that it is handled according to EO Determinations policy. Do you understand what I am trying to say?
Committee: I think what you are telling me is that out of an abundance of caution, you would bring this …
IRS agent: Yes. Yes.
Committee: … to your manager today. Okay. If I could just follow up: so in the past when the BOLO existed, they would automatically go to Group 7822 [secondary screening group], correct?
IRS agent: Yes, uh huh. Prior to the 7823 being created.
Committee: Right. Replacing 7822. And now the process is sort of, as you say, out of an abundance of caution if it's a political advocacy case, including Tea Party cases, you will take it to your manager and then your manager will say send it over to 7823. Right?
IRS agent: That’s correct.
Committee: If you saw—I am asking this currently, if today if a Tea Party case, a group—a case from a Tea Party group came in to your desk, you reviewed the file and there was no evidence of political activity, would you potentially approve that case? Is that something you would do?
IRS agent: At this point I would send it to secondary screening, political advocacy.
Committee: So you would treat a Tea Party group as a political advocacy case even if there was no evidence of political activity on the application. Is that right?
IRS agent: Based on my current manager's direction, uh-huh.
Committee: Is it easy to distinguish between lobbying and political activity just sort of based on the application? Just your initial screening of an application?
IRS agent: It's not real easy.
Committee: And so that's why usually you would send that on to a secondary screening?
IRS agent: Yes. Advocacy.
Committee: Uh huh.
IRS agent: Are you talking political advocacy?
IRS agent: Are you talking specific to a …
Committee: Not specific to a group, just in general.
IRS agent: It's not an easy thing to determine.
Levin also issued a statement on the transcript excerpt released by the Ways and Means Committee Republicans, saying, "House Republicans are at it again trying to twist the facts to fit their political narrative. This particular screener is not singling out applications but rather sending all potential political advocacy cases for secondary screening out of an abundance of caution. The Republicans should stop trying to distort facts to gain a political advantage and instead focus on fixing the 501(c)(4) guidance problem. I call on Chairman Camp, in the future, to release the full context of any exchanges and not carve out parts around 6103 confidential tax information to try to fit the Republican narrative.”
Similar disputes have erupted over partial interview transcripts released by Republican and Democratic leaders on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md. (see Lawmakers Trade Jabs over IRS Accusations).
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