The Internal Revenue Service on Friday admitted and apologized for "inappropriate" targeting of Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations for tax-exempt status violations during the 2012 election. Republicans have called for investigations.
Several organizations carrying the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their exemption applications were singled out by IRS agents for additional reviews between 2010 and 2012, The Associated Press quoted Lois G. Lerner, the director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS, as saying on a conference call with reporters.
The Supreme Court's Citizens United decided in 2010 to permit corporations to spend any amount on money on elections as long as politics is not their main purpose. And the number of applications for social welfare groups doubled in 2012 to 3,400, as compared with 2010, Lerner said.
"That's absolutely inappropriate and not the way we should do things," said Lerner, who administers and enforces the tax laws that apply to organizations recognized as exempt from tax. However, she claimed the move was not political, and apologized for "mistakes" and lack of "good judgment" by low-level employees. "Sometimes people do things because they don't understand the rules or don't think about it."
The IRS admission prompted calls by Republicans in Congress for investigations.
"I call on the White House to conduct a transparent, government-wide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not under way at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was quoted as saying on the Senate floor Friday.
House Speaker John Boehner said the admission reflects "some of the most shameful abuses of government powers" in the last century, Wall Street Journal reported.
Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, called it "an abuse of power by unelected bureaucrats." "The people responsible should be terminated or should resign," added Martin, whose organization has ties to 3,000 local tea-party groups around the country.
"I am deeply, deeply troubled by the IRS's chilling admission that it singled out conservative groups," Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Republican from Florida, was quoted as saying. "This unacceptable conduct is reminiscent of earlier times when the IRS was used to target political enemies. This behavior has no place in our society today," said Crenshaw, the chair of the House subcommittee that determines the IRS' budget annually.
"What they should have done is based it on their activities," Los Angeles Times quoted Marcus Owens, former director of the IRS' nonprofit division, as saying. "The IRS has a long-standing policy of not characterizing taxpayers by their name."
Some Democrats also criticized the incident. "It's completely inappropriate for the IRS or any other federal agency to single out certain organizations based upon their politics," Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska said.
The Treasury inspector general for tax administration is expected to bring out a report next week on the targeting of conservative groups.
More than two dozen targeted tea party groups are part of the American Center for Law and Justice. The move was "partisan" and "coordinated," ACLJ's chief counsel Jay Sekulow said.