By Jason Bramwell
President Barack Obama says he will not tolerate political bias at the IRS and promised to get to the bottom of the agency's admitted targeting of conservative groups, according to a May 13 article in the Washington Post.
The IRS apologized on May 10 for scrutinizing the tax-exempt status of groups with conservative titles, such as "tea party" or "patriot", in their names.
"You don't want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased and anything less than neutral in terms of how they operate", Obama stated at a news conference on May 10 with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House. The president called the revelations of targeting "outrageous."
During a press briefing on May 10, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the matter is under investigation by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
"The fact of the matter is what we know about this is of concern, and we certainly find the actions taken, as reported, to be inappropriate", Carney says. "We would fully expect the investigation to be thorough and for corrections to be made in a case like this. I believe the IRS has addressed that and has taken some action, and there is an investigation ongoing."
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) says the Finance Committee that he chairs will investigate the matter, the first in the Democratic-controlled Senate to announce an investigation. In the GOP-controlled House, the Ways and Means Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee also are investigating.
The IRS said it was sorry for what it calls "inappropriate" targeting of the conservative groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status. The agency claims no high-level officials were aware. It also claims that the practice was initiated by low-level workers.
In a written statement, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who is the chairwoman of the Tea Party Caucus, calls the IRS's admitted targeting of conservative groups a "stunning abuse of power."
"The American people deserve answers as to who authorized it. It is hard to believe this was a 'low-level' decision", she states. "As one of the key agencies charged with enforcing Obamacare, it is also reasonable to ask if any health care decisions have been based on political affiliation and what assurances we have that this type of intimidation will never happen again."
"The revelation that government resources were used to investigate or harass one's political opponents is unthinkable", Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, says in a written statement. "This is the kind of thing you would expect from a third-world dictatorship, not the United States of America. There must be an investigation at the highest levels of government into this inexcusable, indefensible, and dangerous abuse of power."
According to a draft of a watchdog's report that seemingly contradicts public statements by IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011, the Washington Post article states.
Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, says the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias.
But on June 29, 2011, Lerner learned at a meeting that groups were being targeted, according to the watchdog's report. At the meeting, she was told that groups with "tea party", "patriot", or "9/12 Project" in their names were being flagged for additional and often burdensome scrutiny.
The 9/12 Project is a group started by conservative TV personality Glenn Beck.