IRS: We Targeted Conservative, Tea Party Groups With Extra Scrutiny - 'Mistakes Were Made'


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A Mitt Romney supporter at a campaign rally in Ohio.

The Internal Revenue Service admitted Friday to targeting conservative and Tea Party groups with additional scrutiny during the 2012 campaign, the Associated Press first reported.

IRS spokesperson Lois Lerner said at a conference in Washington that the agency apologized for the special emphasis and scrutiny in applications for tax-exempt status.

According to the AP, she said that organizations containing the words "Tea Party" or "patriot" were targeted for additional review, blaming that on "low-level" workers in Ohio.


Here is the full statement the IRS released later:

Between 2010 and 2012, the IRS saw the number of applications for section 501(c)(4) status double. As a result, local career employees in Cincinnati sought to centralize work and assign cases to designated employees in an effort to promote consistency and quality. This approach has worked in other areas. However, the IRS recognizes we should have done a better job of handling the influx of advocacy applications.

While centralizing cases for consistency made sense, the way we initially centralized them did not. Mistakes were made initially, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan rationale. We fixed the situation last year and have made significant progress in moving the centralized cases through our system. To date, more than half of the cases have been approved or withdrawn.


It is important to recognize that all centralized applications received the same, even-handed treatment, and the majority of cases centralized were not based on a specific name. In addition, new procedures also were implemented last year to ensure that these mistakes won’t be made in the future. The IRS also stresses that our employees - all career civil servants -- will continue to be guided by tax law and not partisan issues.

In a conference call later Friday with reporters, the IRS reiterated that it was not engaging in any political attacks by targeting groups with "Tea Party" and "patriot." But it couldn't point to other non-conservative or political-sounding words.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for a government-wide review.


"Now more than ever we need to send a clear message to the Obama administration that the First Amendment is non-negotiable, and that apologies after an election year are not an sufficient response to what we now know took place at the IRS. This kind of political thuggery has absolutely no place in our politics," McConnell said in a statement.

At one point last year, 16 tea party groups joined together in claiming harassment by the IRS, something the agency denied at the time. The IRS said that roughly 75 groups were targeted.

One of those groups, the Tea Party Patriots, called on President Barack Obama to apologize and demanded that Congress investigate.


“The IRS has demonstrated the most disturbing, illegal and outrageous abuse of government power,” said Jenny Beth Martin, the group's national coordinator.

“This deliberate targeting and harassment of tea party groups reaches a new low in illegal government activity and overreach. It is suspicious that the activity of these ‘low-level workers’ was unknown to IRS leadership at the time it occurred. ... We reject a simple apology that does nothing to alleviate the danger of this happening again. Only immediate and public actions on the part of the IRS and the president will suffice.

Certain tax-exempt charitable groups can conduct political activities, but it cannot be their primary activity.


This post has been updated.