Lawmaker: Liberal Groups Received IRS Scrutiny, Too

Politics Reuters

Liberal-leaning "Occupy" groups received similar tax scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service as conservative "Tea Party" groups, according to documents released on Friday by a Democratic lawmaker, who said the IRS had been subjected to one-sided attacks.

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Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee, released documents from 2010 and 2012 used by IRS staff reviewing tax-exempt applications that suggest the key word "Occupy" was in the same category for added review as Tea Party applications.

"Occupy Wall Street" and similar left-leaning groups have sprouted up in recent years to protest corporate power.

Cummings blasted the chief of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), who issued a report two months ago that said the agency targeted conservative terms like "Tea Party" and "Patriot" when examining applications from non-profit political groups seeking federal tax exemption.

"This investigation ... has been characterized by one-sided and partial information leading to unsubstantiated accusations with no basis in fact," Cummings said in his letter to Representative Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the panel.

Cummings called for TIGTA's chief, J. Russell George to be summoned before the committee.

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The IRS documents released by Cummings add another wrinkle to the Tea Party targeting inquiry that has triggered the worst crisis in years at the tax collecting agency.

Two months ago, the affair burst into view when an IRS official acknowledged that conservative groups seeking tax exempt status were inappropriately targeted, after agency officials had denied to lawmakers that the groups had received such treatment.

The scandal led President Barack Obama to oust the IRS chief from his job. Other IRS officials were also removed. The use of the targeting, or "BOLO" lists, was suspended and the FBI, as well as congressional committees, are conducting investigations.

Documents released by Cummings include a May 3, 2013 email between George and his deputy for investigations, with the deputy concluding after a search of 5,500 IRS emails there was no indication of political motivation in the Tea Party searches.

The potential use of liberal terms to select applications for added scrutiny came up last month when another Democratic lawmaker, Representative Sandy Levin, released several BOLO lists with terms like "Progressive."

TIGTA said in a letter to Levin that although liberal terms were on BOLO lists, there was no indication that they received the same added review and delay as Tea Party and other conservative groups.

The inspector general noted that in many BOLO lists, the word "historical" was used next to progressive, suggesting it was not an active issue.

Cummings released internal documents, including emails and Power Point presentations that showed words like "Occupy" were actively being used as late as February 2012.

One document suggests "Progressive" was used during a July 2010 training, along with "Tea Party," as key words that indicated potential political activity.

Groups seeking tax exemption under federal law may engage in limited amounts of political activity, depending on the type of exemption sought. This and the vagueness of the rules often make it difficult for IRS agents to tell which groups overstep and become ineligible for tax exemption.

The scandal led President Barack Obama to oust the IRS chief from his job. Other IRS officials were also removed. The use of the BOLO lists was suspended and the FBI, as well as congressional committees, are conducting investigations