By Ken Berry
How bad was the IRS examination of Tea Party and other conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status? According to a report by the House Committee on Ways and Means, groups containing the words "Tea Party", "conservative", or "patriot" were asked, on average, three times as many questions as groups including the word "progressive." They were also far less likely to be approved for tax-exempt status and far more likely to have their applications delayed.
The Republican-dominated committee claims that fifty-six applications filed by conservative groups were still pending as of May 31, while no groups with "progressive" in their names had a pending application. Citing incomplete information, Democrats in Congress have raised the specter that progressive groups were also targeted by the IRS.
The tempest has been brewing since May when it was first revealed that IRS agents in a Cincinnati wrongfully targeted conservative groups for closer inspection. Other improprieties by IRS staffers that surfaced during the past few months – including living it up in lavish hotel suites at training conferences and spending taxpayer money on video parodies –have only added fuel to the fire.
To this point, it is clear that IRS superiors in Washington oversaw the processing of tax-exempt applications, but there is no evidence that they sanctioned the actions against conservative groups. Congressional investigators continue to dig for dirt.
"The facts are very clear – not only were conservative groups targeted by the IRS, but they received much higher scrutiny than progressives", said Dave Camp (R-MI), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. "However, this is just the tip of the iceberg", he added. "We have received less than 3 percent of the documents responsive to the investigation. So, Congress will continue to investigate how the targeting began, why it was allowed to continue for so long, and what the IRS is doing to resolve this. Americans deserve to know the full truth."
For its part, the IRS maintains that that seventy agency lawyers are working full time to review documents for congressional inquiries. "The IRS is aggressively responding to the numerous data requests we have received from Congress", said an IRS spokesperson in a prepared statement. "We are doing everything we can to fully cooperate with the committees, and we strongly disagree with any suggestions to the contrary."