By Ken Berry
The "Tea Party scandal," which has been quietly simmering for several weeks, may boil over once again. A leading Republican lawmaker says the IRS continued to target conservative groups after they'd been granted tax-exempt status.
The brouhaha first began in May with allegations that the IRS Exempt Organizations (EO) division had applied additional scrutiny in 2012 to the tax exemption applications of numerous Tea Party and other conservative groups. Subsequently, the head of the EO division, Lois Lerner, asserted her Fifth Amendment rights before one of the congressional committees looking into the matter.
IRS officials have since acknowledged that conservative political groups were wrongly singled out. But now an investigation by the House Ways and Means Committee reveals the IRS continued to focus on these groups long after their applications were approved.
Not all the groups subject to closer inspection represent the far right, but there was a definite imbalance, according to Representative Charles Boustany, Jr., MD (R-LA), chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee. In fact, Boustany said the vast majority of groups subjected to special reviews were conservative. Although the reviews weren't full-blown audits, IRS agents steadfastly monitored these groups to evaluate whether they were adhering to the activities described in their tax-exempt applications.
"The committee has discovered that among the hastily approved applications for exempt status in the early summer of 2012, a large number were flagged for IRS surveillance by Washington," said Boustany at a hearing on September 18. "Of those flagged, more than 80 percent of the groups were right-leaning."
Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel claims that all orders to closely monitor tax-exempt groups have been rescinded while the IRS works out new procedures. "They are no longer on a path of potential examination at this time," said Werfel. "That whole process is on hold." Werfel continues to helm the IRS while John Koskinen, President Obama's nomination to replace him, awaits Senate confirmation.
Thus far, congressional investigators have determined that IRS supervisors in the nation's capital knew that applications by conservative groups were being delayed. However, there's no evidence anyone outside of the IRS condoned the practice or even knew it was occurring.
In the meantime, Boustany intends to leave no stone unturned. "That's a whole new line of investigation that we now have embarked on," he commented at the September 18 hearing. "There could have been potential meddling in that examinations process." Don't expect this issue to go away any time soon.