Political groups with the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications were flagged for extra review by the Internal Revenue Service during the 2012 election, the IRS admitted Friday, according to the Associated Press.
Lois Lerner, who heads the unit that oversees tax-exempt groups, apologized at a conference in Washington for the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status. She said the practice, started by low-level employees in Cincinnati, was not motivated by political bias, and told the AP no high-level IRS employees knew about it.
Flagged groups were asked questions they went beyond the scope of a status review, and some were even asked for their list of donors, Lerner said. In most cases that is a violation of IRS policy.
“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said, according to AP.
“The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added.
The American Center for Law and Justice last year represented dozens of tea party groups who said the IRS was inappropriately targeting them, asking them questions beyond the scope of their tax-exempt inquiry in an effort to intimidate them.
Organizations were asked questions like, How do you choose your members? What’s their background? Who do they associate with? What do they discuss?
“Such bullying tactics — designed to silence these organizations during this critical year — violates these citizens First Amendment rights,” the ACLJ said in a March 2012 petition asking Congress to investigate the “intrusive” tactics.
UPDATE, 12:30 p.m.:
The Tea Party Patriots dismissed the IRS apology as insufficient, demanding the resignation of the employees involved and asking Congress to investigate.
“We reject a simple apology that does nothing to alleviate the danger of this happening again,” said Jenny Beth Martin, the group’s national coordinator. “Only immediate and public actions on the part of the IRS and the president will suffice. We demand the immediate resignation of all complicit in this activity and insist Congress investigate.”
The group also questioned whether IRS officials were unaware of the practice Lerner said began with low-level employees.
“The IRS has demonstrated the most disturbing, illegal and outrageous abuse of government power,” Martin said. “This deliberate targeting and harassment of tea party groups reaches a new low in illegal government activity and overreach. It is suspicious that the activity of these ‘low-level workers’ was unknown to IRS leadership at the time it occurred.”