By Ken Berry
The congressional committees investigating the Tea Party scandal – including the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by Darrell Issa (R-CA) – aren't the only ones trying to get their hands on sensitive IRS documents. In response to a lawsuit initiated by Tax Analysts, a nonprofit publisher of tax information and expert analysis, the IRS has released almost 3,000 pages of training materials used by its Exempt Organizations (EO) division, most of them dating from 2012.
It's a big slice of the pie, but not the whole enchilada, of what Tax Analysts hopes to receive from the request it made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The materials are expected to shed some light on the methods the IRS used to target the tax-exempt applications of conservative groups for extra scrutiny. It could be the match that lit the fire that has scorched the IRS these past few months.
The IRS is still experiencing the fallout. In May, acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller was effectively forced out, and the head of the EO division during the time of the infractions, Lois Leaner, resigned in September. Three separate committees are investigating related matters, and a criminal probe has been launched by the Justice Department.
"It is unfortunate that Tax Analysts needed to go to court to get this process started", said Christopher Bergin, president and publisher of Tax Analysts, said in a prepared statement. "An important mission of Tax Analysts is to promote transparency in tax administration. We will vigorously continue to pursue that mission."
Tax Analysts initially requested the documents in May when the controversy over the tax-exempt applications first surfaced. Subsequently, it filed a lawsuit against the IRS on August 13, asking for an expedited processing of the FOIA request. The IRS released roughly1,000 pages in September followed by another 1,800 pages this month.
"Our motion for a preliminary injunction is on hold pending the IRS' continued processing of documents", said Cornish F. Hitchcock, an attorney for Tax Analysts. "Although the IRS has indicated that they have produced the bulk of the training documents we're seeking, we've pointed out some items that seem to be missing. The Service has until November 27 to produce all remaining documents or explain to the court why it can't do so."
As part of its public service mission, Tax Analysts strives to bridge the ever-deepening chasm between the IRS and the taxpaying public. It says that it seeks equal tax treatment for taxpayers of all stripes.