TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1921: Federal Judge Approves $3.5 Million Payout From IRS To >100 Tea Party Groups To Settle Targeting Claims

IRS Logo 2Washington Times, Tea Party Groups Get Revenge Against IRS as Judge Approves $3.5 Million Payout:

A judge late Wednesday signed off on the settlement between the IRS and hundreds of tea party groups, closing out the last major legal battle over what all sides now agree was unwarranted and illegal targeting for political purposes.

The IRS agreed to pay $3.5 million to groups that were wronged by the intrusive inspections, and insists it’s made changes so that political targeting can’t occur in the future.

A few issues are still being fought over in the courts — including whether former IRS senior executive Lois G. Lerner will be allowed to forever shield her deposition explaining her behavior from public view, and whether the IRS should pay attorney fees — but this week’s decision closes out five years of litigation over the targeting itself. ...

The $3.5 million closely approximates the fines the IRS would have had to pay in damages for each intrusive scrutiny of tea party groups, had the agency been found in violation of the law. The money will be split with half going to the lawyers who argued the case and the other half to more than 100 tea party groups, which will get a cut of about $17,000 each.

Judge Michael R. Barrett called the settlement “fair, reasonable and adequate.”

The settlement doesn’t actually include an admission of wrongdoing by the IRS.

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August 14, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (8)

Friday, July 20, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Days 1801-1900

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1869: In Meeting With Lois Lerner, McCain Staffer Requested 'Financially Ruinous' Audits Of Advocacy Groups

IRS Logo 2Washington Times, McCain's Office Urged IRS to Use Audits as Weapons to Destroy Political Advocacy Groups:

A new report from Judicial Watch reveals a concerted effort from Sen. John McCain’s office to urge the IRS under Lois Lerner to strike out against political advocacy groups, including tea party organizations.

Thanks to the results of an extensive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that has been delayed for many years, Judicial Watch has obtained several key emails from 2013 that chronicle McCain’s and Democrat Sen. Carl Levin’s efforts to reign in the advocacy groups that sprouted immediately following the Citizens United decision from the Supreme Court.

The documents uncovered by Judicial Watch include notes from a high-level meeting on April 30, 2013 between powerful members of McCain’s and Levin’s staffs and Lerner, then-director of tax exempt organizations at the IRS under Barack Obama. The notes reveal the suggestions from McCain’s former staff director and chief counsel on the Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee, Henry Kerner who urges Lerner to use IRS audits on the advocacy groups to financially ruin them:

In the full notes of an April 30 meeting, McCain’s high-ranking staffer Kerner recommends harassing non-profit groups until they are unable to continue operating. Kerner tells Lerner, Steve Miller, then chief of staff to IRS commissioner, Nikole Flax, and other IRS officials, “Maybe the solution is to audit so many that it is financially ruinous.” In response, Lerner responded that “it is her job to oversee it all:”

Henry Kerner asked how to get to the abuse of organizations claiming section 501 (c)(4) but designed to be primarily political. Lois Lerner said the system works, but not in real time. Henry Kerner noted that these organizations don’t disclose donors. Lois Lerner said that if they don’t meet the requirements, we can come in and revoke, but it doesn’t happen timely. Nan Marks said if the concern is that organizations engaging in this activity don’t disclose donors, then the system doesn’t work. Henry Kerner said that maybe the solution is to audit so many that it is financially ruinous. Nikole noted that we have budget constraints. Elise Bean suggested using the list of organizations that made independent expenditures. Lois Lerner said that it is her job to oversee it all, not just political campaign activity.

Judicial Watch previously reported on the 2013 meeting.  Senator McCain then issued a statement decrying “false reports claiming that his office was somehow involved in IRS targeting of conservative groups.”   The IRS previously blacked out the notes of the meeting but Judicial Watch found the notes among subsequent documents released by the agency.

Julie Tarallo, Senator McCain's communications director, calls Judicial Watch's allegations  "outlandish conspiracy theories that are totally contradicted by the facts":

McCain

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June 23, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1834: Why Are We Still Arguing Over The Facts?

IRS Logo 2Forbes:  Why Are We Still Arguing Over The Facts Of The IRS Scandal?, by David Herzig (Valparaiso):

There has been a politically charged debate in academic circles for a while now about events that happened in 2013 regarding IRS investigations into groups purportedly because of the use of the term "Tea Party" in their name.

Paul L. Caron on the TaxProf Blog has been running a mostly continuous post (up to around day 1830) about "The IRS Scandal." The blog series is controversial in academic circles because it frames the issue of alleged IRS targeting of a typology of groups as a definite scandal.  As Professor Philip Hackney wrote, "This so-called scandal over what conservatives saw as the persecution of right-leaning nonprofits erupted at a meeting of Washington tax lawyers in May of 2013."  To be sure, it would be true if there was a direct use of the IRS to harm opposition groups.  For example, it was a clear scandal when Nixon used the IRS to target his political enemies. Yet, as we saw over the weekend, the facts associated with this particular allegation are not so certain and open to debate even after many Congressional, internal IRS, and other investigations.

This weekend an interesting feud between Bradley A. Smith (and others) and David Cay Johnston (and others) percolated over the facts associated with Professor Smith's Wall Street Journal Op-ed. In a series of posts on the TaxProf Blog, Mr. Johnston, Professor Smith, and others, continued to debate and litigate the underlying facts related to the IRS investigations.

Professor Smith and others are of the belief that there was a clear scandal and targeting of right leaning groups.  Mr. Johnston, is of the belief that the issue is less opaque.  After all, the IRS did not just use right leaning terms to identify groups for targeting.  What is clear from the series of posts is that even armed with a series of documents, either side in the debate can find clarity in their position and fault in the opposition.

How one interprets the facts, seems to be based on the lens of one's glasses. But, missing in a dispute over the facts, is what they mean. Rather that continue the downward spiral of arguing over the facts of what happened, here I want to offer a more productive use of the spot-light. We should be focused on two important points.

May 19, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1831: Johnston Says Wyland Ignores Inconvenient Facts In The IRS 'Scandal'

IRS Logo 2TaxProf Blog op-ed:  Michael Wyland Ignores Inconvenient Facts In The IRS 'Scandal', by David Cay Johnston

I’m glad that Michael Wyland weighed in, though he begins with diversionary nonsense by asserting that I forgot that others would critique my critique. Then Wyland falsely asserts that I “persist in denying a scandal ever happened” when I explicitly state there was a scandal and, as a Tax Notes columnist back then, was the first person to call on Lois Lerner to resign.

Wyland also faults me for not addressing C3 application scrutiny. Professor Bradley Smith didn’t write about C3s, only C4s.

Let’s stick to the issue — did the Obama Administration target conservatives, exclusively or nearly so, in reviewing gratuitous C4 applications, blocking their engagement in the 2012 elections? Or is this scandal’s nature quite different?

Taxes are the core of our democracy and the very reason (along with the power to regulate commerce) that we live in the Second American Republic under our Constitution. I hope more people weigh in because our democracy will benefit from a full airing of the tax law enforcement issue at hand. My purpose is to show verifiable facts that reveal as false the meme that Rep. Daryl Issa, Smith and now Wyland perpetuate.

False memes damage our democracy. Facts matter.

Demolishing a key aspect of this meme is easy — the blocking part. No one needs IRS approval to open shop as a C4. Only after-the-fact filings are required. That means no one was blocked or could have been. When Smith and others state otherwise they are ill-informed or deceitful. Smith should know the law given his occupation.

There is, also, a larger issue about politics and money and what role Congress should define for the IRS, our federal tax police.

Those issues will be addressed in my next book, tentatively titled The Prosperity Tax, which proposes an entirely new and simplified tax system aligned with the 21st Century economy. My plan would shrink the IRS, use a privatized but licensed system to make cheating extremely difficult (and very painful), level the tax playing field and encourage much more savings and investment more wisely deployed. And is wipes away all the tax code filigree.

For now, let’s stick to the issue at hand.

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May 16, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1830: Johnston Says Smith Mischaracterizes The Record And Gets The Facts Of The IRS 'Scandal' Wrong

IRS Logo 2TaxProf Blog op-ed:  Smith Mischaracterizes The Record And Gets The Facts Of The IRS 'Scandal' Wrong, by David Cay Johnston

I’m glad that Professor Smith has responded, though he begins with a false assertion that “most” of my essay “consists of ad hominin attacks.” Noting Smith’s “failure to know the facts” is not ad hominem. And contrary to his assertion, I never questioned his intelligence or anyone else’s. But points for using a rhetorical device to divert attention from the issues.

My essay was rich with specific facts and circumstances which Smith fails to refute. Sadly, Smith presents as facts things he considers so obvious that they need no attribution (See Sunrise, from the East) but which under scrutiny turn out to be bogus.

Anyone who checks Smith’s sources will see that Smith mischaracterizes the record and, in some cases, gets the facts totally wrong.

Worse, Smith asserts that he knows things for which there is not a scintilla of evidence. His reiterated argument that the IRS did Obama’s bidding is nothing but conjecture, directly contradicted by the testimony of the IRS manager who volunteered that he is a conservative Republican. Smith relies on TIGTA, but its audits do not support him, they contradict him.

Smith refers to documents without quoting them. That may explain a reason Smith does not even come close to getting his facts straight, although that does not excuse his errors and falsehoods. When one has been shown the facts and repeats a falsehood it becomes a much more serious matter, a lie.  (See my pieces, for example, AG Eric Holder lying here, here and here.)

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May 15, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 14, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1829: Wyland Says Johnston's Op-Ed Contains 'A Number Of Breathtaking Distortions And Omissions'

IRS Logo 2TaxProf Blog op-ed:  David Cay Johnston's Op-Ed Contains 'A Number Of Breathtaking Distortions And Omissions,' by Michael L. Wyland (Sumption & Wyland, Sioux Falls, SD):

In his op-ed Bradley Smith's WSJ Op-Ed Is A 'Breathtaking' Distortion Of The Facts Of The IRS 'Scandal', Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author David Cay Johnston has forgotten an old aphorism.  When one points an accusing finger at someone, three fingers of the same hand point back at oneself.  In short, Johnston’s response to Bradley Smith’s Wall Street Journal commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the IRS scandal contains a number of breathtaking distortions and omissions of its own.

I have written more than 25 articles and features for the Nonprofit Quarterly addressing aspects of the IRS scandal since it became public.  In addition, I presented a paper titled “Nonprofit Political Speech in a Post-Citizens United and IRS Scandal Environment” at the 2014 national ARNOVA conference in Denver.  In short, I have had an interest in this continuing saga since it became public.

To those who persist in denying a scandal ever happened, it’s important to remember that public acknowledgement of the existence of the scandal was initially made in an apology by Lois Lerner.  On May 10, 2013, Lerner spoke to a group of tax attorneys at an ABA meeting in Washington, D.C.  In response to a planted question, Lerner apologized for IRS actions to single out tax exemption applications from conservative-sounding organizations for additional scrutiny that resulted in long delays in processing.  [In fact, the last lawsuit filed against the IRS involving the affected nonprofits wasn’t settled until 2018.] 

The apology was made, in large part, to get the news out ahead of the U.S. Treasury’s Inspector General for Tax Administration’s report on the IRS’s practices from 2010 to 2013

There are three key findings in the report, listed on the “highlights” page. First, the IRS “allowed inappropriate criteria to be developed and stay in place for 18 months.” Second, the processes the IRS attempted to implement “caused significant delays in processing certain applications.” Third, the IRS “allowed unnecessary information requests to be issued.”

Johnston says that no targeting of conservative-sounding or leaning organization was performed.  He cites a “be on the lookout” memo, or BOLO, as evidence.  In fact, there were five BOLOs issued during the 2010-2013 period.  Each subsequent BOLO became progressively more all-encompassing in an attempt to correct the bias present in previous versions.  Further evidence of the political bias in the effort was summed up by internal IRS memoranda referring to the handling of “tea party cases.”

There was a 2017 TIGTA audit report that indicated IRS review of applications for tax exemption that included other types of suspected political activity besides conservative, but that report covered a time period that began in 2004, six years before the 2010 inception of the “tea party cases” activity by the IRS.  The Treasury press release (link above) identifies several of the problems associated with attempting to compare the 2017 TIGTA audit report with the seminal 2013 TIGTA audit report.

Those who point to the 2017 report conveniently ignore a prior 2014 TIGTA report issued in response to assertions by Democratic members of Congress who sought to document the ecumenical nature of the IRS activity.  That report confirmed that the overwhelming majority of the applications flagged were indeed from conservative-sounding organizations, and that the small minority of applications that were also flagged during that time appeared to be included in the group accidentally for reasons not related to their presumed political ideology or assumed activities.

Another error in Johnston’s piece is his implication that the scandal affected applications for exemption by 501(c)(4) groups only.  In fact, about a third of the applications from groups subjected to delays and inappropriate questioning came from organizations seeking exemption as 501(c)(3) public charities.  This widespread confusion, whether accidental or intentional, obscures the difficulties inherent in regulation of political activity by nonprofit groups seeking federal tax exemption.

The events of 2010-2018 related to the flagging of tax exemption applications, as well as the actions by the IRS, Congress, and the Obama administration after Lerner’s apology and the release of the first TIGTA report are of historical interest and should influence federal policymaking.  For history, I recommend the 223-page December 23, 2014 final staff report issued by U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  Although overreaching in a couple of places, the report’s chief virtue is its unrelenting reference to primary source material as it builds its case.  At this point, however, time, partisan overreach by both Republicans and Democrats as well as changes in both presidential administrations and key Congressional leaders indicate that planning for the future is more important that rehashing the past.

Bradley Smith’s solution to the issue is to house exclusive investigation of political activity by tax-exempt entities with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).  David Cay Johnston correctly points out that there have been instances of what appears to be impermissible political activity by both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) groups for decades and chastises the IRS for doing nothing.

The IRS did attempt to address the issue in 2013 by issuing proposed regulations governing permissible and impermissible political activity by 501(c)(4) groups.  The proposal ignited a firestorm of opposition from all points of the political spectrum.  In fact, the Treasury Department received more comments on the proposed rule — almost all in opposition — than it had received for all rules in the preceding six years combined.  The proposed rule was never moved forward.

Regardless of the future of federal regulation – and how such regulation might be tested in the U.S. Supreme Court in a post-Citizens United, post-McCutcheon environment – it is crucial that policymakers have a broader awareness of the issues and history involved.  Johnston needs to take to his own heart the admonishment he gave to Smith and review the entire record rather than be selective in drawing his opinions and lessons.

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May 14, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1828: Smith Responds To Johnston's 'Ad Hominem Attack' On His WSJ Op-Ed

IRS Logo 2TaxProf Blog op-ed:  David Cay Johnston's Ad Hominem Attack On My WSJ Op-Ed, by Bradley Smith (Capital University Law School; former Chair, Federal Election Commission):

David Cay Johnston claims that I have a “moral obligation” to address the claims of his op-ed, Bradley Smith's WSJ Op-Ed Is A 'Breathtaking' Distortion Of The Facts Of The IRS 'Scandal'. Well, OK then.

In fact, most of Mr. Johnston’s reply consists of ad hominem attacks on the integrity, motives, and intelligence of me, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the very groups that were singled out for harassment, and unnamed “lawyers and advisors to conservative groups.” But he does make a few claims that actually can be addressed.

First, Mr. Johnston begins by arguing that “The law Congress passed does not allow C4s to be engaged in political activity, but a 1959 IRS regulation does. Regulations should implement, not expand or contract the will of Congress.” Thus, he suggests that 501(c)(4) organizations should not be allowed to engage in any political activity at all, and that the IRS regulation permitting (c)(4) organizations to engage in political activity so long as that is not their primary activity (26 C.F.R. 1.501(c)(4)-1)) is ultra vires, because “[r]egulations should implement, not expand or contract the will of Congress.”

Now, first, it’s not clear that any of the harassed conservative groups were engaged in “political activity” as defined by the IRS. But let’s leave that trivial fact aside. The law originally passed by Congress (the Revenue Act of 1954) did indeed create section 501(c)(4) for “[c]ivic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” But it did not define “social welfare.” It is only because of IRS regulations that “social welfare” was defined to exclude “direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” One of the key points of my op-ed is that this definition is not required by statute, and is ill-conceived as a matter of policy—in a democracy, it is hard to understand how political engagement is not part of the “promotion of social welfare.”

In any case, what the IRS taketh away, the IRS giveth back—its regs go on to provide that a group qualifies as a “social welfare” organization so long as it is operated “primarily” for social welfare, thus allowing (c)(4) organizations to engage in other activities, including political activities. It is true that, taken in isolation, this language would seem to contradict the “exclusively” requirement of 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(4), but in fact the IRS could just have easily have written its original regulation to define “social welfare” to include political activity, entirely or in limited amounts, and that would have yielded the same result with no apparent conflict.

Further, some allowance for political activity by (c)(4) organizations is a necessity to make sense of the statute at all. Why? Because in the 1970s Congress added Section 527 to the code for “political organizations,” which are defined as organizations organized and operated “primarily” for “influencing or attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any individual to any Federal, State, or local public office … .” As 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from engaging in political campaigns, and 527 organizations must be primarily engaged in political activity, there must be some section of the tax code for organizations that engage in limited political activity. (Or perhaps Mr. Johnston agrees that they should simply exist outside the Internal Revenue Code, as they did before section 527 was added in the 1970s. That would functionally accomplish the same thing as my suggestion in the Journal, so I’m quite open to that, but I don’t think that’s what he has in mind). The IRS, in accordance with the statute, has placed such organizations in Section 501(c)(4). In practice, however, there is no meaningful differentiation in the tax treatment of (c)(4) and 527 organizations. Thus, the modest suggestion of my article is that Congress get the IRS out of trying to police political speech at all, and leave such determinations to the Federal Election Commission, which by statute has “exclusive jurisdiction with respect to the civil enforcement” of the Federal Election Campaign Act.

With that legal primer out of the way, let me respond to Mr. Johnston’s few substantive claims. First, he argues that “there was no “targeting” of right wing groups,” and that any “hassling” was limited to “dubious applicants.”

Of course, this is not the conclusion of TIGTA, which notes that the inappropriate IRS scrutiny began with organizations with the words “tea party” in their names, later expanded to include many other names, starting with “Patriot” and gradually expanding to include many others. (Here is how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit summed up the TIGTA Report: “Those findings include that the IRS used political criteria to round up applications for tax-exempt status filed by so-called tea-party groups; that the IRS often took four times as long to process tea-party applications as other applications; and that the IRS served tea-party applicants with crushing demands for what the Inspector General called ‘unnecessary information.’”)

Oddly, Mr. Johnston later admits that extra scrutiny was in fact applied based on nothing more than the names of applicants, and defends the use of the “Be On the Lookout (BOLO)” list as having eventually included many names likely to be associated with progressive organizations. But it really can’t be both, can it? That is, extra scrutiny could not have been limited to “dubious applicants,” if at the same time that extra scrutiny was triggered by nothing more than certain words in an organization’s name.

Mr. Johnston’s claim that there was no targeting is not the finding of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and it is not the testimony of Lois Lerner, who stated flat out that agents in her division had targeted organizations with “tea party” and “patriot” in their names, and that "It was an error in judgment, and it was not appropriate, but that's what they did," before clamming up and invoking her 5th Amendment rights the rest of the way. (Mr. Johnston brushes aside Ms. Lerner’s 5th Amendment invocation on the grounds that “any competent lawyer” would have advised her to invoke the 5th. I’m all in favor of 5th Amendment rights, but in civil cases judges and juries are free to draw adverse inferences from their invocation. It strikes me as a curious defense of the legality of IRS targeting that “any competent lawyer” would have told her to take the Fifth.)

It is true that the IRS had eventually expanded the BOLO list to include other words, and that some liberal groups were also flagged. But just because a few liberal groups were snagged doesn’t wash away the stain, and the fact is, far more conservative groups were targeted. In fact, Judy Kindell of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations office wrote to Lerner in 2012 that “Of the 199 (c)(4) cases [to that time], approximately ¾ appear to be conservative leaning, while fewer than 10 appear to be liberal/progressive leaning groups.”  TIGTA, Review of Selected Criteria Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review (p. 102). As exempt organizations expert Barnaby Zall explains, there is simply no comparison between the treatment of conservative and liberal/progressive groups.

We might think of it a bit like we understand disparate impact in the race arena. If an employer adopts facially neutral criteria such as “no curly hair,” we know this will have a disparate impact on African Americans, and it is illegal. Similarly, as a campaign finance attorney, scholar, and regulator, I’ve long pointed out that it is easy to draw up campaign finance regulations that are facially neutral, but will mainly hit one’s political opponents. You just have to know how different groups are engaging in politics. That doesn’t mean your side will escape unscathed, only that the other side will bear the brunt of the rule. That’s how the BOLO list worked in practice, but all this is lost on Mr. Johnston.

Also lost on Mr. Johnston is the other point of my op-ed: that the IRS crisis was a natural response to partisan political pressure. Mr. Johnston argues that there was no involvement of the “White House or Obama operative[s].” Of course not, if by “involvement” you mean a direct order or specific approval. The very point I make in the WSJ editorial, and in numerous other publications over the years, is that there didn’t need to be. Instead, President Obama repeatedly and publicly denounced tea party and other new conservative groups as “a threat to democracy” and worse, and repeatedly claimed, sans evidence, that they were possibly funded by foreign operatives. Meanwhile, numerous Democratic Senators did the same, and indeed pressured and sometimes threatened the IRS in letters, committee hearings, and speeches, to deny applications from, or to prosecute, both conservative organizations generally and certain specific organizations. They also accused specific organizations of operating unlawfully (though presumably they hadn’t seen their filings).  See Congress Abetted the IRS Targeting of Conservatives, Wall St. J. op-ed, June 2, 2014. Indeed, in the congressional testimony that Mr. Johnston cites as justifying the use of BOLO lists, the IRS manager who first instigated the list specifically states that he did so because of “media attention” that had been focused on these groups, making them “high profile” cases. ). That’s my point.

Finally, we know from the TIGTA reports that after the lists were started and revealed, IRS higher ups simply sat on the issue rather than acting to end it. Why? Either they were blind to a major and obvious mismanagement problem dropped in their laps, or they decided that this was a desirable course of action. If the latter, again, why?

I will admit that I had never heard of Mr. Johnston before this, so I looked him up. I quickly learned that earlier this very week, he accused President Trump of being “in the cocaine trafficking business.”  That left me wondering if he was really the best guy to accuse me of a “breathtaking” “failure to rely on well-established facts.”

Readers of this blog can look back on Paul Caron’s extensive compilation of IRS coverage and decide for themselves, I guess.

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May 13, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1827: Johnston Calls Smith's WSJ Op-Ed A 'Breathtaking' Distortion Of The Facts

IRS Logo 2TaxProf Blog op-ed:  Bradley Smith's WSJ Op-Ed Is A 'Breathtaking' Distortion Of The Facts Of The IRS 'Scandal', by David Cay Johnston:

Bradley Smith’s WSJ op-ed is breathtaking in failure to rely on well-established facts regarding the IRS handling of gratuitous 501(c)(4) applications. Smith is entitled to his opinion, parts of which I agree with, but not to rely on falsehoods, as I will show from the public record that he clearly does.

Smith’s failure to know the facts is disturbing because we expect those who teach to care first and foremost about integrity. Smith has an academic and moral duty to deal in facts and to not premise his opinions on falsehoods. So, too, do the WSJ opinion page editors.

Smith’s op-ed is about an “unresolved” IRS issue. The resolution to that is simple and easy, I showed when I was a Tax Notes columnist. The law Congress passed does not allow C4s to be engaged in political activity, but a 1959 IRS regulation does. Regulations should implement, not expand or contract the will of Congress. The solution would also comport with Smith’s stated desire to remove burdensome regulations.

Now to the facts —

The record shows that there was no “targeting” of right wing groups and the “hassling” Smith writes about was against all dubious applicants.

Likewise, there was no favoritism for liberal or centrist or establishment or any other C4 organizations. Indeed, the only C4s who had their status revoked were two liberal organizations.

The record shows that the number of conservative groups whose applications were given extra scrutiny was larger than the number of centrist and liberal groups. That, however, tells us nothing about IRS bias, only about the competency and propriety of the applicants. I expect drunks in bars to misunderstand such issues, but not professors.

The record shows that the C4 applications set aside for scrutiny stated or indicated plans to engaged in prohibited activity. Among applications declaring such intent, the facts show, more were in the Tea Party zone of politics than centrist or liberal zones.

One obvious question this raises is whether there are lawyers and other advisers to conservative groups who simply did not understand the C4 law and, logically, saw nothing amiss in the applications they prepared. Was there bad advice circulating among conservative groups? That issue has, as best I can tell, never been investigated.

The Be On the Lookout (BOLO) directive for applications was even handed. It included “Tea Party” because many questionable applications used those two words, making it like some other terms shorthand for identifying which applications were most likely to be problematic.

The BOLO memo also cited “progressive,” “blue” and “medical marijuana.” Only the last of those might be affiliated with conservative groups, likely libertarian.

The BOLO directive came from a mid-level manager, a self-described conservative Republican who testified that he acted on hown authority. The record shows he did so with good reason.

Many C4 applications — on their face — stated or indicated the organization would engage in prohibited activity or strongly suggested that. The facts show that more of these flawed applications, came from right wing groups that the center or left. Had the IRS approved any or all of them without scrutiny THAT would have been a scandal.

The proper comparison would be to a building inspector reviewing plans for a structure so poorly designed that his or her training tells him that if built the structure would likely collapse. The building inspector orders further review, not denial. (See 1/ Wright, Frank Lloyd on 1937 stress load tests for S.C. Johnson & Sons Wax Co. headquarters in Racine and 2/ Watts Towers, 1959 stress load tests.)

The IRS sent all problematic applications for further review, regardless of political zone.

Without question the IRS asked more than it needed of groups whose C4 applications seemed on their face to be inappropriate. But all groups were asked exhaustive questions, not just conservative organizations.

Using my building inspector analogy, if most of the structural plans suspected of being deficient were for hotels instead of motels, would Smith promote the idea of a government bias against overnight accommodations with an elevator in the lobby versus exterior walk-ups? Or would he recognize that the problem was not with the building inspector, but with the deficient applicants being more from hotel owners than motel owners?

The record here shows not bias but IRS professionalism. Further, there was no White House or Obama operative involvement, which is a key falsehood perpetuated by Smith.

Also, C4 applications are gratuitous.

Not one C4 organization was blocked from getting underway in any election cycle. You can start a C4 tomorrow without advance IRS approval so long as you timely comply with subsequent reporting requirements, unlike the advance approval required for C3s. No one reading Smith’s op-ed would have a clue about this central fact. I wonder if Smith even knows that – which he should, given his academic position.

There is a robust public record on what actually took place, as opposed to the endlessly repeated distortions, fabrications and outright lies that Smith relies on.

You can read the relevant testimony, with minimal redactions, of the IRS manager in charge here. The full testimony is available here.

Why is Smith so badly misinformed? Why are so many other Americans? Why does this grotesque lie continue to infect our civic debate and degrade out understanding of law enforcement?

Understanding the conventions of journalism and how politicians exploit them provides the first clue. Anyone who can get a false story out cleanly has a chance of making it part of the zeitgeist, an enduring lie.

Mendacious conduct by Issa launched this episode in intentionally inflicting damage on our democracy. Not only did Issa seek a report that by its very nature distorted reality, but he later sought to keep the full record from the public. Such conduct by lawmakers of any stripe is despicable.

Issa asked for an inspector general report, but only about C4s applications by conservative groups. The initial news reports should have been all over this but were not. That aided Issa’s goal, which was not a search for truth, but to cherry pick facts and weaponize them. Instead, general assignment reporters not steeped in either tax law or administrative procedure accurately repeated what they were told by Issa and his flacks.

BTW, the IRS commissioner at the time was a George W. Bush appointee who continued in office under Obama. The IRS must be apolitical. The evidence shows it was, Smith notwithstanding.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration compiled a one-sided report just as Issa requested, ignoring IRS scrutiny of any groups not deemed conservative. It is relevant here to note that the IG is a former Republican political operative and that only when asked by the minority did he issue further audit findings that showed the C4 reviews were not aimed at groups because they were conservative, but rather at all organizations whose applications suggested a lack of qualification for C4 status. That gets lost, but it should not be forgotten or ignored.

For those who care about actual facts, here is a concise explainer from CBS News.  An excellent WSJ reporter looked at the nuances hereHere is FactCheck.org account of how both sides in Congress mishandled this issue: 

The FBI found no evidence of “enemy hunting” at the IRS and did not seek any prosecutions.

None of this excuses Lois Lerner's atrocious handling of the issue after Issa created a problem by seeking and then promoting only partial facts, not the whole truth.

I was the first person to call for Lerner to resign, ahead even of House Republicans. Her ring-and-run trick at a tax conference was appallingly bad judgment. What she did tarnished tax law enforcement needlessly. It was childish. But that has nothing to do with the underlying facts, only with her unprofessional approach to putting out the news.

Issa compounded the distortions by making it clear that if Lerner testified before his committee he would seek to prosecute her for any flaw in her testimony. Any competent lawyer would have advised Lerner to assert her Fifth Amendment rights. Issa’s conduct strikes me as a setup to make sure we did not hear from Lerner, who then could be excoriated without defense, not that this is a new tactic for lawmakers who put partisanship ahead of their oath of office.

We should all be appalled at Issa’s conduct.

Likewise, President Obama foolishly entered into this issue and embraced the false narrative inspired by Rep. Issa’s one-sided request that started this all off. Obama should have never allowed himself to be drawn into this, but especially not on the basis of falsehoods.

The IRS has long known that C3s and C4s have been improperly involved in political activity. There is an informing 2008 memo issued from Lerner’s office.

Overall, however, the IRS has done next to nothing about all sorts of abuses of exempt organization status going back decades. THAT is a bona fide scandal.

Way back in the mid-1970s, in the Detroit Free Press, I exposed illegal political campaign contributions by an exempt organization. The IRS did nothing. A few years ago, my local newspaper in Rochester, N.Y., revealed that an exempt organization created by local government officials made campaign contributions with public funds. Again, the IRS did nothing. Many more examples exist.

Smith’s piece also ignores the work of the estimable Professor Harvey Dale, who does research first to ensure that his writings have deep factual basis. Any professor should be expected to have familiarized himself with the public record, but Smith clearly has not (or else cares not).

Integrity is a foundational requirement for self-governance. It is mandatory for professors, lecturers and teachers and should be rigorously enforced by their academic superiors. We want to encourage the broadest range of opinions in the marketplace for ideas, but we also want to expose and remove from falsehoods and proven distortions of fact, which are as dangerous to democracy as botulism is to canned vegetables.

We all make mistakes. The test of character is whether we correct those mistakes promptly and forthrightly.

Smith now has the opportunity, and the moral obligation, to do the scholarship necessary to learn the facts and to correct the record promptly and forthrightly. He is entitled to his opinion, but that opinion needs to be grounded in facts, not the falsehoods he relied on and perpetuated in his WSJ op-ed.

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May 12, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, May 11, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1826: The Five Year Anniversary

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal op-ed:  The Unresolved IRS Scandal, by Bradley Smith (Capital University Law School; former Chair, Federal Election Commission):

Imagine if liberal groups discovered that President Trump’s Internal Revenue Service was targeting them for heightened scrutiny or harassment. The media and Democrats would decry this assault on the First Amendment and declare the U.S. on the brink of autocracy. The scandal would dominate the midterms, and the legitimacy of the election would be called into question.

Strangely enough, the IRS did target organs of the opposition party during the last administration, but the episode has largely faded from public memory without resolution. May 10 marks the fifth anniversary of the revelation that President Obama’s IRS targeted conservative groups for more than two years prior to the 2012 presidential election.

While some of the faces at the IRS have changed, the law that enabled their misuse of power has not. Congress’s failure to address the problem leaves the U.S. democratic process vulnerable to further abuses. 

Lois Lerner, the career official at the center of the IRS scandal, retired on full pension after invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before Congress. John Koskinen, appointed IRS commissioner by Mr. Obama to lead the agency “in difficult times,” served his full term, spending the better part of four years stonewalling congressional requests for information. On his watch, the IRS destroyed evidence subject to subpoena.

The response from the political system showed early promise but quickly fizzled. ...

[M]any conservatives seem to think Washington has turned the page on IRS abuse. Meanwhile, too many Democrats seem to think that this could never happen to them. Both are wrong. The IRS scandal was not the result of a few rogue IRS employees; the problem is that the IRS is involved in regulating political activity. ...

The easy fix here would be for Congress simply to scrap restrictions on political activity by social-welfare organizations, thereby stripping the IRS of authority to decide which groups are “political committees” and which aren’t. In a democracy, political activity is part of social welfare. Such a change would not affect federal revenue, as contributions to social-welfare organizations are not tax-deductible. There would be no “subsidizing political activity.”

The Federal Election Commission—a bipartisan agency staffed by experts and created to oversee election-related activities—is the proper authority to determine whether an organization should be subject to regulation under campaign-finance laws. The IRS—an agency under control of the president, with no bipartisan checks, subject to congressional pressure, and tasked with collecting revenue—is not.

There is a long history of presidents from both parties using the IRS to harass political opponents. Democrats and Republicans alike should recognize that, fix the law, and get the IRS out of politics.

Update:  David Cay Johnston, Bradley Smith's WSJ Op-Ed Is A 'Breathtaking' Distortion Of The Facts Of The IRS 'Scandal'

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May 11, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (2)

The IRS Scandal, Days 1701-1800

Monday, April 23, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1813: Did The IRS Buy Off The Tea-Party?

NorCal (2018)Stu Bassin (Former Tax Partner, Baker & Hostetler, Washington, D.C.; Former Senior Litigation Counsel, U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division), Did the IRS Just Buy Off the Tea-Party?:

You may have missed the small item in the tax press describing the latest embarrassment for the Service arising out of the agency’s handling of applications for tax exempt status submitted by “tea party” organizations. The taxpayers, their supporters in the press, and many in Congress have long contended that the IRS action was politically motivated and evidence of an agency running amok. Meanwhile, the Service bungled its response, adding fuel to the fire. While public discussion of the scandal has subsided in recent months, we learned last week that the Government had settled a class action brought by the Tea-Party organizations with a $3.5 million payment from the Treasury. NorCal Tea Party Patriots v. Internal Revenue Service, No. 13-cv-00341 (Order of April 4, 2018).

For any of you who do not know remember the back story, the underlying dispute began nearly a decade ago with filing of a spate of applications for tax-exempt status by organizations with political agendas, including many organizations associated with the Tea Party movement. The applications attempted to skirt the prohibition against political activities by tax-exempt organizations, although the political focus of the applicants was readily apparent. The exempt organizations specialists within the Service’s National Office, headed by Lois Lerner, eventually transferred the applications to a small office in the Cincinnati Service Center, where they largely languished in inaction. The motive for the Service’s action is a subject of dispute—many have contended that the Service was implementing the political agenda of the Obama administration. The official explanation of what happened provided by senior Service officials kept changing, Ms. Lerner refused to testify at Congressional hearings, the Service “lost” the data from Ms. Lerner’s computer, and IRS Commissioner Koskinen’s appearances before congressional committees only added to fears of political wrongdoing. Years later, several senior Service officials have left office with their reputations damaged, the public standing of the Service has declined even further following congressional hearings, and many of the complaining organizations have quietly received tax-exempt status.

Naturally, the scandal generated a substantial amount of litigation, little of which has gone well for the Government. The Nor-Cal case was brought as a class-action by one of the disappointed applicants for tax-exempt status. According to the plaintiffs, the Service gave increased scrutiny to applications submitted by the taxpayer and other politically conservative groups, delayed action on some of the applications and, in some cases, requested additional and unnecessary information from the applicants to delay review of their applications. Substantively, the plaintiffs’ legal claims asserted violations of the First Amendment and the Section 6103 prohibition against disclosure of taxpayer return information. ...

The settlement is remarkable in part because the taxpayers’ claims appear to have had massive legal and factual holes, even accepting the taxpayers’ allegations regarding the Service’s mis-handling of their exemption applications. ...

Under the circumstances, the Government’s willingness to settle the case by paying damages to the class is remarkable. This blogger’s experience has been that the procedures employed by the Government for reviewing settlement proposals of tax cases involving multi-million dollar payouts from the Treasury would have required formal written review by several officials in the Justice Department’s Tax Division, including the Acting Assistant General. Several Service employees would also have reviewed the proposal, with formal written approval given by someone acting on behalf of the current Acting Chief Counsel. Depending upon application of some nuances in the procedures governing settlements, a review by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation may have been required under Section 6405.

So, this blogger asks: What induced these officials to approve the settlement and the multi-million dollar payout? Did the Government’s evaluation of the litigating hazards (likelihood of success multiplied by potential damage award) justify a payment of $3.5 million to the class? Or, was the payment justified by other considerations (e.g., a desire to buy a quiet resolution to embarrassing litigation)? And, if so, is that a proper reason for the government to pay litigants? As much of that process was conducted internally within the government and is privileged, we will all be left to ponder the possibilities.

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April 23, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1788: Lois Lerner’s Last Laugh

Wall Street Journal:  Lois Lerner’s Last Laugh, by William McGurn:

Just after Labor Day 2016, when the U.S. presidential race was entering full swing, columnist George F. Will urged Congress to undertake a seemingly futile gesture: He wanted the House to impeach John Koskinen, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.

Mr. Koskinen had taken over as head of the IRS after it had been exposed for singling out for mistreatment conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. He lied to Congress when he said he had produced all of Lois Lerner’s emails, allowed documents under subpoena to be destroyed, and generally behaved in a way that helped ensure there would be no hard consequences for the abuses. Though Mr. Koskinen had only a few months left on the job, Mr. Will argued that impeaching him might help Congress restore its much diminished standing as a coequal branch of government.

Not quite two years later, Congress continues to pay the price for letting Ms. Lerner and Mr. Koskinen ride freely into the sunset. Though the IRS and other federal agencies—including the State and Justice Departments, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation—are now headed by Trump rather than Obama appointees, they continue to spurn congressional oversight demands with near impunity. ...

Congress has its own ways of showing its displeasure, including cutting the budgets of recalcitrant agencies. Given budget rules, this would require the cooperation of some Democrats, who are unlikely to go along. Nevertheless, the power of the purse remains a tool Congress can use to make the executive branch pay a price for its actions.

Above all, there is impeachment. The constitutional power to remove officials from office for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors” is a writ far broader than anything a special counsel enjoys.

Then again, it’s not easy to impeach a federal official, and it shouldn’t be. As Mr. Will pointed out in his column calling for Mr. Koskinen’s impeachment, “no appointed official of the executive branch has been impeached in 140 years.” Mr. Koskinen was not impeached, and he and Ms. Lerner rode off into the sunset without having to answer for their actions and deceits.

Ask yourself this: Is it likely our federal agencies would be so haughty about Congress and its subpoenas if Mr. Koskinen had been impeached?

So instead of whingy calls for another special counsel, a Congress that behaved as a branch of government coequal to the presidency would use its own powers to force oversight on resisting federal officials. Even if this might ultimately include impeaching FBI Director Christopher Wray.

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March 29, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 12, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1740: Former AG Eric Holder Says DOJ Should Not Have Apologized For IRS Targeting Of Tea Party Groups

IRS Logo 2Following up on my previous posts:

Washington Times, Eric Holder: DOJ Wrong to Apologize to Tea Party Groups For IRS Scandal:

Former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Trump administration was wrong to have apologized to tea party groups snared in the IRS’s targeting scandal, saying it was another example of the new team undercutting career people at the Justice Department who’d initially cleared the IRS of wrongdoing. “That apology was unnecessary, unfounded and inconsistent, it seems to me, with the responsibilities that somebody who would seek to lead the Justice Department should have done,” Mr. Holder said.

He’d ordered a criminal probe into the IRS’s handling of tea party applications after the 2013 revelation by an inspector general that the tax agency had subjected conservative groups to intrusive and inappropriate scrutiny when they applied for nonprofit status.

That probe eventually cleared the IRS, saying that while there was bungling, there was no ill intent. the probe specifically cleared former IRS senior executive Lois G. Lerner, saying rather than a problem, she was actually a hero, reporting bad practices when she spotted them.

The Justice Department reversed that finding, though, in settlements reached with tea party groups over the last year that singled Ms. Lerner out as having approved of the intrusive behavior and yet hidden the practices from her supervisors in Washington.

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February 12, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (8)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1735: The End Of IRS Targeting?

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal, The End of IRS Targeting?:

It can be hard to keep track of Obama-era targeting of the political opposition by federal administrative agencies. But this week brings fresh hope that such abuses will not be repeated.

The Journal reports:
President Donald Trump will nominate Charles Rettig, a California tax lawyer, to run the Internal Revenue Service, a person familiar with the matter said Monday.
If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Rettig will take one of the most thankless jobs in Washington.

Of course in recent years it has been thankless for especially good reason. During the Obama administration, the tax agency targeted conservative organizations for exceptional scrutiny and even harassment. Last year the IRS settled lawsuits brought by organizations that had been mistreated simply because they advocated for limited Constitutional government. The government shelled out millions of dollars to settle one suit involving 428 organizations, according to an October report in the New York Times. In a separate case brought by different organizations, an apology for the IRS’s egregious conduct was enough to resolve the litigation.

Reported the Times:
The settlements were the conclusion of two legal battles that have dogged the I.R.S. since the initial lawsuits were filed after a 2013 treasury inspector general’s audit that found groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names received more scrutiny over their applications for tax-exempt status. The revelations plunged the I.R.S. into a firestorm that ultimately led to the ouster of its acting commissioner and prompted accusations that the agency was being used as a political weapon by the Obama administration.

While Mr. Obama did force the resignation of the acting IRS commissioner in the wake of the scandal in 2013, he made no serious effort to reform the agency and proclaimed that the targeting had involved “not even a smidgen of corruption” long before his government had finished investigating.

Mr. Obama also placed John Koskinen atop the agency. Mr. Koskinen’s failures to comply with subpoenas and to report accurately to the Congress inspired an effort to impeach him in 2015. A Journal editorial at the time noted:
In February 2014 Congress instructed Mr. Koskinen to supply all emails related to Lois Lerner, who ran the IRS Exempt Organizations division during the targeting. We now know Mr. Koskinen made little or no effort to preserve or track these communications and that, only a few weeks after the subpoena, IRS employees in West Virginia erased 422 backup tapes, destroying up to 24,000 Lerner emails.

So the bar has been set very low. Can the new IRS chief clear it? ...

A man who has spent a career across the table from the IRS, sometimes clashing with the agency in court, would seem to possess some useful experience. Here’s hoping he chooses to be a reformer.

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February 7, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, February 2, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1730: Department Of Justice Settles Last Targeting Case; IRS Apologizes For Delaying Pro-Israel Group's Application For Tax Exempt Status For Seven Years

Z StreetDepartment of Justice Announces Settlement with Z Street Over Improper IRS Treatment:

The Department of Justice today announced that it has entered into a settlement with Z Street, a non-profit corporation dedicated to educating the public about various issues related to Israel and the Middle East, pending approval by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  Z Street alleged that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) applied heightened scrutiny to applications for tax-exempt status received from organizations connected in any way to Israel, and applied this policy to Z Street’s application, resulting in delay.  The settlement agreement includes an apology from the IRS to Z Street for the delayed processing of the group’s application for tax-exempt status.

“Tax exemption eligibility should be based on whether an organization’s activities fulfill requirements of the law, not a group’s policy positions or the name chosen to reflect those views,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman. “The attorneys at the Department of Justice work hard to ensure that all Americans receive equal treatment under the law.  Today’s settlement further illustrates this commitment.”

This is the final settlement in a series of cases brought by groups alleging that their tax-exempt status was delayed by the IRS based on inappropriate criteria, including names and policy positions.  The United States District Court for the District of Columbia recently approved settlement agreements in Linchpins of Liberty v. United States and True the Vote v. IRS. In Norcal Tea Patriots v. IRS, the United States agreed to a settlement in this class action lawsuit which is currently pending approval in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.  In Freedom Path v. IRS, the United States entered into a settlement resolving a wrongful disclosure claim and dismissing other claims, including allegations of improper IRS targeting. A single regulatory challenge remains following the settlement. Freedom Path lost this challenge at the District Court and the issue is currently on appeal to the Fifth Circuit.

Announcement and quote from Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Linchpins of Liberty v. United States and Norcal Tea Patriots v. IRS can be found here.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Announces Department of Justice has Settled with Plaintiff Groups Improperly Targeted by IRS:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced today that the Department of Justice has entered into settlements, pending approval by the district courts, in two cases brought by groups whose tax-exempt status was significantly delayed by the Internal Revenue Service based on inappropriate criteria. The first case, Linchpins of Liberty v. United States, comprised claims brought by 41 plaintiffs, and the second case, NorCal Tea Party Patriots v. Internal Revenue Service, was a class action suit that included 428 members. Attorney General Sessions released the following statement about the cases:

“Chief Justice John Marshall wrote 'that the power to tax involves the power to destroy … [is] not to be denied.' And it should also be without question that our First Amendment prohibits the federal government from treating groups differently based solely on their viewpoint or ideology.”

"But it is now clear that during the last Administration, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to screen applications for 501(c) status. These criteria included names such as “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” or “9/12” or policy positions concerning government spending or taxes, education of the public to “make America a better place to live,” or statements criticizing how the country was being run. It is also clear these criteria disproportionately impacted conservative groups.”

“As a result of these criteria, the IRS transferred hundreds of applications to a specifically designated group of IRS agents for additional levels of review, questioning and delay. In many instances, the IRS then requested highly sensitive information from applicants, such as donor information, that was not needed to make a determination of tax-exempt status.”

"The IRS’s use of these criteria as a basis for heightened scrutiny was wrong and should never have occurred. It is improper for the IRS to single out groups for different treatment based on their names or ideological positions. Any entitlement to tax exemption should be based on the activities of the organization and whether they fulfill requirements of the law, not the policy positions adopted by members or the name chosen to reflect those views.”

“There is no excuse for this conduct. Hundreds of organizations were affected by these actions, and they deserve an apology from the IRS. We hope that today’s settlement makes clear that this abuse of power will not be tolerated.”

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February 2, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (11)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1722: The IRS Apologizes For Targeting Tea Party Group

Friday, January 12, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1709: Victims Of IRS's Tea Party Bias — And Taxpayers — Deserve To See Lois Lerner's Testimony

IRS Logo 2Forbes, Victims Of IRS's Tea Party Bias — And Taxpayers — Must See Lois Lerner's Testimony, Lawyer Says:

Lois Lerner, formerly of the Internal Revenue Service when it discriminated against applicants for tax exemptions based on their viewpoints, claims Americans have no right to read statements she made under oath about why she did it.

Lerner, the former director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, wants U. S. District Judge Michael Barrett to maintain under seal a deposition she gave in June for a civil suit that victims brought in 2013. Unsealing it would place her safety in jeopardy, she says.

Her former IRS colleague, Holly Paz, seeks the same after they targeted groups with “tea party” names and groups that didn’t like how the government was run.

Among those opposed are the very plaintiffs who sued the IRS in Barrett’s Ohio court. Attorney Edward Greim, who represents the Norcal Tea Party Patriots, says a pending settlement in their case shouldn’t create a reason for the depositions to stay secret. “Class members must know the content of their testimony to consider the fairness of the settlement, and the public must have access to help ensure that similar conduct never occurs again,” he wrote in November. ...

He’s not alone. It was the Cincinnati Enquirer that moved to unseal the depositions on Oct. 25, the same day a proposed settlement was announced to the court. The state of Ohio and the Judicial Watch group in Washington have also moved for leave to argue for unsealing as friends of the court. ...

Lerner and Paz have said the release of their depositions “would expose them and their families to harassment and threat of serious bodily injury or even death.”

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January 12, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1706: Lois Lerner, Liberty, And Bureaucracy

IRS Logo 2Washington Times, Liberty Dies in Bureaucracy:

As Donald Trump finishes the first year of his presidency, the greatest political scandal story of the last generation is being mostly ignored.

In May 2013, then-IRS official Lois Lerner admitted the Internal Revenue Service had been targeting conservative groups in general, and Tea Party groups in particular. Mrs. Lerner was not trying to clear her conscience. The Treasury Department’s Inspector General was about to release a damning reporting on the politicization of the IRS and how that agency was targeting political opponents of the Obama regime.

Mrs. Lerner’s actions did not happen in a vacuum. Ninety-four percent of political contributions from IRS employees went to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. ...

If Republicans are serious about their commitment to liberty and freedom, there is only one option. The swamp must be drained. There must be a wholesale elimination of government departments and agencies. Civil service must be abolished and a lot of government workers need to be told to find other jobs.

If the Republican Party once again, haul up their freshly laundered white flag of surrender on the issue of a weaponized government that can be used against the enemies of the Democrats, America’s days as a free nation are over.

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January 9, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Days 1601-1700

January 7, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1699: Lois Lerner And Civil Service Reform

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal op-ed:  A Big, Beautiful Trump 2018 Issue, by Kimberley A. Strassel:

President Trump is on the hunt for a 2018 issue—a strong follow-up to his tax-cut victory that will motivate voters and gain bipartisan support. Democrats are pushing for an infrastructure bill, inviting the president to spend with them. House GOP leaders are mulling entitlement reform—a noble goal, if unlikely in a midterm cycle.

Fortunately for the president, there’s a better idea out there that’s already a Trump theme. It’s also a sure winner with the public, so Republicans ought to be able to pressure Democrats to join.

Let 2018 be the year of civil-service reform—a root-and-branch overhaul of the government itself. Call it Operation Drain the Swamp. ...

We live in an administrative state, run by a left-leaning, self-interested governing class that is actively hostile to any president with a deregulatory or reform agenda.

It’s Lois Lerner, the IRS official who used her powers to silence conservative nonprofits. ...

More broadly, it is a federal workforce whose pay and benefits are completely out of whack with the private sector. ...

Civil-service reform’s bipartisan appeal means it has a shot in the Senate. The Chuck Schumers and Elizabeth Warrens will fight for their federal union buddies. But will Democrats like Jon Tester, Claire McCaskill, Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly —who represent conservative or right-to-work states—go to bat for the likes of Lois Lerner?

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January 2, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, January 1, 2018

The IRS Scandal, Day 1698: Fallout From Tea Party Targeting Allegations Has Neutered IRS Oversight Of Nonprofits

IRS Logo 2Washington Post editorial, Scandal Has Overwhelmed the IRS:

Conservatives who long sought to restrain the Internal Revenue Service have managed to throw a wrench into an IRS division that is supposed to regulate tax-exempt nonprofits and charities, just at a time when these groups are becoming more partisan and complex.

In a Dec. 18 article in The Post, reporter Robert O’Harrow Jr. offered a disturbing picture of the besieged Exempt Organizations division of the IRS, which regulates charities and nonprofits such as those allowed under sections 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) of the tax code. The former may not directly or indirectly support a political candidate, but they are allowed to participate in educational debates about the issues; the latter are social-welfare groups that can be involved in politics only so long as it is not their primary activity. The number of applications from new charities has exploded in recent years, and the law is a bit of a gray zone — vaguely written and hard to enforce.

In recent years, overwhelmed by applications, the division and its then-leader, Lois Lerner, fell into the crosshairs of the conservative tea party movement for the slow pace of approvals of tea party groups, which they claimed was due to a conspiracy by the Obama administration to target them. Subsequent investigations found mismanagement — the IRS was taking shortcuts and using keywords to deal with the mountain of applications — but not deliberate targeting.

Still, the charges took a toll. The division seems to have lost its will to scrutinize charities. According to Mr. O’Harrow, last year the division rejected just 37 of the 79,582 applications on which it made a final determination. He reported that charities have now begun to recognize they face little or no chance of examination or sanction. The division’s budget has declined from a peak of $102 million in 2011 to $82 million last year. The number of division employees has fallen from 889 to 642. ...

There is more than enough blame to go around in this tale. The conservative groups, their allies in Congress and the IRS itself all bear responsibility. It is clear what the result will be. Voters will have less and less knowledge of who is paying for political activity in their democracy, even as many politicians hypocritically claim to favor transparency.

(Hat Tip: Bill Turnier.)

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January 1, 2018 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (9)

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1697: Budgetary Evisceration After Tea Party Targeting Allegations Has Left The IRS Incapable Of Implementing The New Tax Law

IRS Logo 2New York Times editorial, Don’t Cheer as the I.R.S. Grows Weaker:

[A]s it prepares to implement the most sweeping tax overhaul in 30 years, the I.R.S. is perhaps weaker than it has ever been. In 1986, the last time Congress passed major changes in the tax code, it included a budget increase for the agency, allowing it to hire 2,100 more employees to carry out the changes. Earlier this year, as the agency struggled to do its job with a decimated staff, a shrinking budget and decrepit computers, its commissioner pleaded with Congress to at least give it time to prepare for the big tax overhaul Republicans wanted.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Republicans rushed hastily written legislation larded with amendments through both chambers. Even before this hash hit their desks, I.R.S. officials were warning about the potential for a catastrophic breakdown that could imperil our tax system. Then, at its busiest time of year, the agency was given a week before the tax law goes into effect to translate hundreds of pages of conflicting provisions, potential loopholes and unintended consequences into coherent guidance for taxpayers. ...

Americans should reserve their rage for Republicans, who have spent years targeting the I.R.S. for political gain. Since 2010, Congress has cut the agency’s budget by nearly $1 billion, or 18 percent, adjusted for inflation, as the I.R.S. processes about 10 million more tax returns. Its work force has been whacked by 21,000, or nearly one-quarter; taxpayers who need help — often individuals preparing their own returns — have a hard time getting anyone to answer the phone. ...

There is no permanent commissioner leading the I.R.S. Its last one, John Koskinen, left in November at the expiration of his term. Mr. Koskinen had spent a big chunk of his time on Capitol Hill, being lambasted by Republicans over allegations that the Obama-era I.R.S. unfairly targeted conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status. A report released in October by the Treasury Department’s inspector general found that the I.R.S. had also scoured left-leaning groups’ applications for tax-exempt status as part of its effort to identify groups focused on politics, not “social welfare,” as the rules for tax-exempt status require.

The agency apologized for its improper audits, and a Justice Department investigation found mismanagement but no evidence of a crime. Though the audits occurred before Mr. Koskinen came aboard, Republicans clamored for him to be impeached, an action not taken against an administration official besides the president since the 1870s. The dumb and unsuccessful effort was led by legislators like Jason Chaffetz, then a Republican congressman from Utah, who view the I.R.S. as symbolic of “big government” and think that killing it outright might be a good idea. ...

Pounding a perennial punching bag like the I.R.S. scores easy political points among Americans who associate the agency with an unpleasant April deadline. We get it. But if the agency that collects more than 90 percent of the government’s money stumbles, all Americans pay, and they can look to Congress, not just the I.R.S., in assigning the blame.

(Hat Tip: Bill Turnier.)

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December 31, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (17)

Monday, December 18, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1684: Fallout From Allegations Of Tea Party Targeting Hampers IRS Oversight Of Nonprofits

IRS Logo 2Washington Post, Fallout From Allegations of Tea Party Targeting Hamper IRS Oversight of Nonprofits:

Years of conservative attacks on the Internal Revenue Service have greatly diminished the ability of agency regulators to oversee political activity by charities and other nonprofits, documents and interviews show.

The fall in oversight, a byproduct of repeated cuts to the IRS budget, comes at a time when the number of charities is reaching a historic high and they are becoming more partisan and financially complex.

It represents a success for conservatives who have long sought to scale back the IRS and shrink the federal government. They capitalized on revelations in 2013 that IRS officials focused inappropriately on tea party and other conservative groups based on their names and policy positions, rather than on their political activity, in assessing their applications for tax-exempt status. Among conservatives, the episode has come to be known as the “IRS targeting scandal.”

Under the federal tax code, charities may not directly or indirectly support a political candidate, but they are allowed to participate in educational debates about the issues. Other nonprofits known as social welfare groups may be involved in politics, but only as long as it is not their primary purpose.

The main part of government tasked with policing those lines, the IRS’s Exempt Organizations division, has seen its budget decline from a peak of $102 million in 2011 to $82 million last year. At the same time, division employees have fallen from 889 to 642.

The division now lacks expertise, resources and the will needed to effectively oversee more than 1.2 million charities and tens of thousands of social welfare groups, according to interviews with two dozen nonprofit specialists and current and former IRS officials.

“This completely neutered them,” said Philip Hackney, a tax law professor at Louisiana State University and former Exempt Organizations lawyer at the IRS. “The will is totally gone.” ...

Conservatives have likened the IRS’s extra scrutiny of the tea party groups to Watergate and called it a political witch hunt. Among the leading critics was Cleta Mitchell, a veteran Republican activist and nonprofit lawyer. In 2014, she told a House oversight panel that Congress ought to abolish the IRS, saying the agency “is so corrupt and so rotten to the core that it cannot be salvaged.”

But while investigations by Congress and federal agencies found that IRS officials selected tea party groups for added attention, the investigators concluded there was no proof of political intent, a liberal conspiracy or White House involvement. ...

More charities have now begun to recognize they face little chance of an examination or sanction, which can involve terminating a group’s tax-exempt status and the ability of its donors to deduct their contributions, specialists said. “More and more groups are going to discover that they get away with doing politics,” said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a law professor at Notre Dame and a former nonprofit lawyer. ...

In interviews and an email exchange with The Post, Mitchell said the investigations failed to highlight the essence of IRS wrongdoing. She maintains the scandal was grounded in abusive, politically motivated targeting, as chronicled by the Issa report in 2014. “I have no intention of ‘schooling’ anyone on why the IRS / Obama / Democrats’ narrative is wrong,” she wrote. “I’m not going to get into an argument to try to convince you of why that narrative is wrong. It just is. You either believe it or you don’t and if you don’t think there was a Political targeting scandal, then you don’t need to talk to me.”

Miriam Galston, a law professor at George Washington University, said there’s growing evidence that many charities are “flagrantly violating” the expectation that they contribute to “the public good.” She said IRS regulators are not in a position to do anything about it. “They’ve been burned. They’ve been hammered. They’ve been bludgeoned,” said Galston, a specialist in state and federal nonprofit law. “They’re trying to survive.”

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December 18, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (8)

Friday, December 15, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1681: Robert Mueller And Lois Lerner

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal op-ed:  Let Mueller Keep Digging, by William McGurn:

At a moment when the special counsel’s team is busy calling its own fairness and impartiality into question, why would Donald Trump even think of firing Robert Mueller?

When the special counsel picked his team, almost half the lawyers he selected had donated to Hillary Clinton. Legally that may not be disqualifying. It was, however, highly imprudent for a man presiding over the nation’s most sensitive investigation. Not a single Mueller prosecutor had contributed to Mr. Trump.

Those donations now provide the context for more recent revelations about the partisan preferences of Team Mueller. ...

These developments, alas, have encouraged two horrible responses from Republicans. The first is the call for Mr. Trump to sack Mr. Mueller, an idea news reports say is gaining traction inside the White House. The other is for a new special counsel to investigate the existing special counsel.

Either would make a bad situation worse. ...

Then there’s Congress, which has been rightly frustrated to find the Trump Justice Department as obstructionist as the Obama Justice Department. In testimony last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray advanced the extraordinary claim he can hold back information from the elected representatives of the American people on the grounds that it is classified or that he’s waiting for an inspector general’s report and so, presumably, should they.

The message for Congress is this: Why should an FBI director take you seriously when you don’t take yourselves seriously? During the IRS scandal, Lois Lerner rode off into the sunset without testifying because Congress allowed the Obama Justice Department to determine her fate. Ditto for John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner who happily served out his time when Congress should have impeached him for his falsehoods and obstructionism.

n its 1821 decision affirming the right of the House to hold people in contempt and jail them, the Supreme Court noted that depriving Congress of this authority would mean “the total annihilation of the power of the House of Representatives” to prevent people from just flipping it the bird. Isn’t that just what government officials from Ms. Lerner to Mr. Wray have been doing?

If executive branch officials continue to play games with subpoenas, Congress needs to give them a taste of the legislature’s powers, whether by cutting agency budgets, impeaching directors or holding uncooperative officials in contempt. In this regard it’s good to know Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is still pursuing contempt citations for Mr. Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. A contempt vote by the full House would of course depend on Speaker Paul Ryan, who complained in October about FBI “stonewalling.”

So forget firings and new special prosecutors. Let the president use his executive authority to make public the evidence that would tell the American people what really happened. And let Congress start acting like the coequal branch of government the Founders intended—and get to the bottom of a story that involves the legitimacy of the presidency, the 2016 election and our federal institutions.

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December 15, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1672: Ohio Attorney General Asks Federal Court To Release Lois Lerner's Deposition In Tea Party Targeting Case

IRS Logo 2Cincinnati Enquirer, Ohio AG DeWine Wants Lois Lerner's IRS Testimony Unsealed in Tea Party Case:

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has thrown his support behind efforts to unseal testimony by two former IRS officials at the center of the tea party scandal of 2013.

A federal judge previously sealed the depositions of former IRS divisional director Lois Lerner and her immediate subordinate after their personal lawyers said the two were receiving threats.

The Enquirer has since requested the documents be unsealed by U.S. District Court as the case has been tentatively settled. That request has been backed by the U.S. Justice Department and the lawyers suing the government. The two women's lawyers still oppose it.

DeWine joined in on The Enquirer's side last week by filing an amicus brief. The case "involves matters of profound public concern and ... the public’s right of access to documents filed in the litigation,” lawyers with DeWine's office wrote.

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December 6, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1671: Lois Lerner’s Secrets

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal editorial, Lois Lerner’s Secrets: The Former IRS Official Wants a Court to Seal Her Testimony:

If only the National Security Agency were as good at keeping secrets as Lois Lerner. When news that the IRS had targeted conservative groups led to congressional hearings, the former director of the Exempt Organizations division declared her innocence and then clammed up. Now she and her former IRS associate, Holly Paz, are asking a federal judge to seal forever their depositions in a lawsuit that the IRS settled last month for $3.5 million.

Ms. Lerner and Ms. Paz say they or their families have endured harassment or death threats. But Edward Greim, the attorney for the roughly 400 tea-party clients who sued, notes in reply that the last threat Ms. Lerner and Ms. Paz cited was from early 2014.

Leave aside that the usual way of dealing with threats or harassment is to notify police or the FBI—not to keep information about an abuse of power by public officials from the public. Every other party is united for disclosure: the defense (i.e., the government, which has admitted wrongdoing and apologized); the plaintiffs; and the Cincinnati Enquirer, which has filed a motion to lift the seal. ...

American taxpayers who will fork out $3.5 million for Ms. Lerner’s actions have a right to hear how she justified what she did at the IRS.

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December 5, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1657: Lois Lerner Fears Retaliation If Her Tea Party Targeting Deposition Is Made Public 

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal, Lois Lerner Doesn’t Trust You: “You Can’t Handle the Truth,” the Former IRS Official Tells the American People:

In his courtroom apologia in the film “A Few Good Men,” Jack Nicholson’s Col. Nathan Jessup made the words famous. Now, in her bid to keep her testimony in a recently settled tea-party lawsuit against the IRS secret, Lois Lerner has picked up the Jessup argument: “You can’t handle the truth!”

They used different words but the meaning is the same. Here’s how lawyers for Ms. Lerner and her former IRS deputy, Holly Paz, put it in a filing aimed at persuading a judge to keep their testimony from becoming public: “Public dissemination of their deposition testimony would expose them and their families to harassment and a credible risk of violence and physical harm.” They’re not just thinking of themselves, they add. Young children, family members, might be hurt too.

That’s quite an argument. So enraged would the American public become upon learning what Ms. Lerner and Ms. Paz said that they and those around them would be in physical peril. Which probably makes most people wonder what the heck must the two have said that would get everyone so agitated? ...

[W]hat a crippling precedent it would be if government officials from powerful agencies such as the IRS were permitted to keep their abuses secret on grounds they fear that the people whom they are supposed to serve might be upset if they found out.

There can be good reasons to keep a deposition sealed, from ensuring the privacy of the innocent to protecting the life of a mafia informant. But Ms. Lerner is no innocent. Indeed, given all the falsehoods that have been spread in an effort to whitewash what the IRS had done, the case for transparency becomes even more compelling here. ...

[I]n this case the plaintiffs, the government and a newspaper all say they are for disclosure. Is a judge really going to buy Ms. Lerner’s argument that the American people can’t handle the truth?

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November 21, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (8)

Friday, October 27, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1632: Department Of Justice Settles Tea Party Targeting Cases For Millions And An Apology

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal, Administration Agrees to Settle Tea-Party Suits Against IRS:

The Trump administration on Thursday said it has agreed to pay between $1 million and $10 million to settle lawsuits against the Internal Revenue Service for targeting tea-party groups in the Obama era, saying in court documents that the IRS “admits that its treatment...was wrong.”

The Justice Department entered into proposed settlements with groups that alleged in 2013 they had been subject to discriminatory treatment in applying for tax-exempt status. The move largely puts an end to a saga that had engulfed the IRS for years.

In a settlement filed in federal court in Washington, which still must be approved by a judge, the Justice Department said the IRS “expresses its sincere apology” and was “fully committed” to not subjecting groups for additional review “solely on the name or policy positions of such entity.”

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October 27, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (12)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1630: The Real Scandal Is The IRS's Budget

IRS Logo 2Philip Hackney (LSU), The IRS Targeting Scandal Was Fake, but IRS Budget Woes Are a Real Problem:

Conservatives have been seething since 2013 over what they say was an unfair and imbalanced effort by the IRS to scrutinize right-leaning organizations more closely than other groups seeking nonprofit status.

As a new report from the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration shows, the IRS did flag some conservative groups out of concern that they might be problematic. But it also paid the same kind of extra attention to liberal organizations with words like “occupy” and “progressive” in their names between 2004 and 2013.

So it’s now official. There was extra scrutiny but there was no liberal bias among the federal employees who determine whether new organizations that want to operate as nonprofits are legitimate – and therefore eligible for the tax-exempt status that goes with that designation.

As a former IRS lawyer who now researches nonprofit regulation, I am relieved to see the claim that the government exclusively targeted conservative organizations officially debunked. I believe this new report ought to usher in a serious discussion about a very real problem: The IRS is too cash-strapped to conduct its oversight of nonprofits of all kinds. ...

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional agency, recognized in 2014 that the tax agency’s budget and staff were too small to handle its nonprofit oversight responsibilities. The situation has only deteriorated since then.

The overall IRS budget fell by about 18 percent in inflation-adjusted terms from 2010 to 2017, from US$14 billion to roughly $11.5 billion. Today, the agency employs fewer people than it did in 2010. The number of its employees dedicated to auditing and vetting the nonprofit sector fell about 5 percent from 2010 to 2013, the GAO found.

This long-term trend, which began two decades ago, has eroded oversight. The number of aspiring nonprofits gaining tax-exempt status rose over the past decade as rejections fell. The number of denials plummeted from 1,607 in 2007 to merely 37 in 2016.

Hackney

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October 25, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (10)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1612: Inspector General Debunks Ideological Targeting Of Conservative Groups By The IRS

IRS Logo 2New York Times, In Targeting Political Groups, I.R.S. Crossed Party Lines:

A federal watchdog investigating whether the Internal Revenue Service unfairly targeted conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status said that the agency also scrutinized organizations associated with liberal causes from 2004 to 2013.

The findings by the Treasury Department’s inspector general mark the end of a political firestorm that embroiled the I.R.S. in controversy, led to the ouster of its commissioner and prompted accusations the tax collection agency was being used as a political weapon by the Obama administration.

The exhaustive report, which examined nine years worth of applications for tax-exempt status, comes after a similar audit in 2013 found that groups with conservative names like “Tea Party,” “patriot” or “9/12” were unfairly targeted for further review.

The new report found that the I.R.S. was also inappropriately targeting progressive-leaning groups. While the investigation does not specify the political affiliations of the groups, names that were flagged included the words “Progressive,” “Occupy,” “Green Energy,” and Acorn — the acronym for the now defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. ...

Ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans regularly used the scandal to bludgeon Democrats and paint the Obama administration as corrupt. But now it appears that the I.R.S. was an equal offender. “This report shows the I.R.S. deep scrutiny of political groups is in fact bipartisan, it is liberal and conservative groups that the I.R.S. has been targeting,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

Rather than condemn the I.R.S. actions, Democrats on Thursday celebrated the findings as evidence that Republicans were wrong to claim bias at the I.R.S. Democrats had previously been critical of the 2013 Treasury report since it only looked at two years of applications. “After years of baseless claims and false accusations it is my hope Republicans will finally put an end to this witch hunt and admit that their attacks on the I.R.S. were nothing but political grandstanding on behalf of special interests at the expense of American taxpayers,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

Republicans, however, are not prepared to let the I.R.S. off the hook and seized on the report as evidence that the agency must be reformed. “This report reinforces what government watchdogs and congressional investigators have confirmed time and time again: Bureaucrats at the I.R.S., such as Lois Lerner, arbitrarily and haphazardly administered the tax code and targeted taxpayers based on political ideology,” said Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the Republican chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “It’s no wonder the American people have lost faith in the I.R.S.”

The controversy over political targeting at the I.R.S. was the genesis of many congressional hearings and probes, and it has continued to haunt its current commissioner, John Koskinen, whom Mr. Obama tapped to stabilize the agency. As recently as April, House members called for the firing of Mr. Koskinen for the “gross mishandling” of its investigation into the targeting of political groups. Despite the uproar from Republicans, President Trump has not taken any steps to fire Mr. Koskinen, whose term ends next month.

Washington Post, Four Years Later, the IRS Tea Party Scandal Looks Very Different. It May Not Even Be a Scandal:

It all seemed to add up. At least it did then.

The Internal Revenue Service, according to outraged Republicans and many media accounts at the time, targeted tea party organizations and other conservative nonprofit groups that were seeking tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012. Critics said the tax agency had subjected the targeted groups to extra scrutiny, questioning and long delays, largely because their names suggested they would be political opponents of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.

The allegations formed one of the best-known scandals of former president Barack Obama’s administration and led to months of congressional hearings, official investigations and damning news coverage.

Now, it seems, it wasn’t so simple. ...

The new finding suggests Republicans and the media provided an incomplete or even misleading account of what the IRS was up to when it was reviewing political organizations that sought tax-exempt status. While not of the order of the news media’s credulous (and flawed) reporting about supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003, the report offers a check on the prevailing narrative of the time.

It may also offer a measure of vindication to Obama, at least according to one of his senior advisers. “The Obama administration was often accused of Nixonian wrongdoing,” Eric Schultz, the former president’s spokesman and a deputy White House press secretary under him, said Thursday. “At some point, I lost track of how many Watergates we had. But we live in an environment where the more hyperbolic your allegation is, the more likely it will get headlines, no matter its veracity. This report substantiates our argument that our White House did not politicize the IRS, but those allegations, A1 material at the time, have lived online for four years and now that the public has moved on, they’re proven false.” ...

The issue might have become part of what Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan has called the “scandal attention cycle” — the rapid surge of attention as reporters race to cover an issue followed by a similar decline as the news media loses interest. “The problem is that it often takes time for the full set of facts to come out,” Nyhan has written. “By that time, the story is old news and the more complex or ambiguous details that often emerge are buried or ignored.”

Philip Hackney (LSU), IRS ‘Targeted’ Liberal Organizations and After All These Years TIGTA is Still Wrong:

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) just issued a new report four years and five months after rebuking the IRS for using “inappropriate” criteria to select applications for tax exempt status for scrutiny. In the first report, TIGTA rebuked the IRS for pulling the applications of conservative leaning organizations for greater scrutiny.

This time it considers the fact that the IRS over a period of 10 years used liberal leaning names such as ACORN, Emerge, and Progressive as criteria for pulling applications for greater scrutiny. This resulted in the IRS applying greater scrutiny to these organizations. Some might say the IRS targeted these organizations. Those organizations appear to have faced long wait times as well, and sometimes some questions of limited merit.

I write this piece to make two points: (1) had this information been in the initial report, I don’t think we would have had the “scandal” that shook the IRS and the political world of the time; and (2) the TIGTA report built its primary claim on a garbled faux legal postulate. The original report did terrible damage to the IRS and individuals by failing on both of these fronts.

Leandra Lederman (Indiana), The Real IRS Scandal:

[T]he new TIGTA report “identified 146 cases in which the IRS examined groups for suspicion of engaging in disallowed political activity using those criteria.” This finding is not a surprise. The fact that IRS employees were using keywords to identify progressive as well as conservative organizations doing too much political activity to qualify under 501(c)(4) should have been clear to anyone who dug into the public documents. But it wasn’t the message that the House Oversight Committee — and thus many media stories — disseminated. The real scandal was the d amage the resulting witch hunt did to the IRS. I wrote about that in [IRS Reform: Politics As Usual?, 7 Colum. J. Tax L. 36 (2016)] and in a related, short article I published in Tax Notes, The IRS, Politics, and Income Inequality, [150 Tax Notes 1329 (Mar. 14, 2016),] focused in part on IRS underfunding. I hope that TIGTA’s new report helps set the record straight.

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October 7, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, October 6, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1611: TIGTA Report, Review Of Selected Criteria Used To Identify Tax-Exempt Applications For Review

IRS Logo 2Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Agency Statement On Audit Report: “Review of Selected Criteria Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review”:

In May 2013, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) published an audit report in which we reported that between May 2010 and May 2012, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) used inappropriate criteria to identify for review organizations’ applications for tax-exempt status. TIGTA’s 2013 audit found that the IRS inappropriately selected organizations for scrutiny based on their names or policy positions, instead of indications of significant potential political campaign intervention. Further, TIGTA found that the IRS made requests for unnecessary information and delayed, in some cases for years, making decisions on the organizations’ applications.

This audit was initiated based on bipartisan interest expressed by Members of Congress regarding the IRS’s use of other criteria to select tax-exempt applications for further review. Today, we are releasing a 115-page audit report that provides a historical account of the IRS’s use of 17 additional selection criteria going back as far as 2004. These 17 selection criteria were chosen based on bipartisan input from congressional committees of jurisdiction over the IRS, input from the IRS, and training materials that were not provided to TIGTA during the 2013 audit.

TIGTA found that, between 2004 and 2013, the IRS potentially used more than 250 criteria to identify for further review the applications of organizations seeking tax-exempt status. In our 2013 audit, we found that the process for review of applications for potential political advocacy from May 2010 to May 2012 involved the IRS’s use of a tracking sheet identifying the potential political cases selected for further review; however, the IRS was unable to identify what specific cases, if any, were selected for further review under 16 of the 17 criteria in our current report. Without case selection tracking sheets for the 16 criteria, TIGTA used various other sources to identify 146 cases related to the 17 criteria with indications of political activity, and confirmed that 83 of them were selected for review based on the 17 criteria.

This report is divided into 17 sections, one for each of the 17 criteria. Due to the unique nature of the 17 criteria, it is difficult to compare the criteria to each other, or to compare in aggregate to the criteria reviewed in the 2013 audit. However, TIGTA did find that, while the number of organizations impacted is significantly less than the number detailed in the 2013 report, some organizations in the current report also experienced significant delays and received requests for unnecessary information. In addition, in the 2013 report the majority of cases we reviewed were from organizations applying for I.R.C. § 501 (c)(4) status. In contrast, the majority of the 146 cases in the current report were organizations applying for I.R.C. § 501 (c)(3) status.

Our 2013 report made several recommendations for process improvements and all of them were implemented by the IRS, which we verified in a follow-up audit in 2015. As a result of our 2013 report, the IRS completely revamped the process for reviewing tax-exempt applications, including the elimination of criteria listings, known as “Be On the Lookout” listings, in June 2013. According to the IRS, the revamped process has totally eliminated the backlog of applications and reduced processing cycle times for cases. Since the review process in place when the 17 criteria were potentially used by the IRS is no longer in effect, TIGTA did not make any recommendations for improvement in this audit report.

Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Review of Selected Criteria Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review (2017-10-054) (Sept. 28, 2017):

IMPACT ON TAXPAYERS
In a prior audit, TIGTA determined that the IRS used inappropriate criteria to select tax‑exempt applications for further review. Moreover, ineffective management resulted in substantial delays in processing certain applications and allowed unnecessary information requests to be issued. It is critical that tax laws are administered in a fair and impartial manner.

WHY TIGTA DID THE AUDIT
In the prior review, TIGTA audited criteria that the IRS stated it used to select potential political cases for additional review from May 2010 through May 2012. The overall objective of this audit was to provide a historical account of the IRS’s development and use of 17 select criteria from 259 criteria used to identify tax‑exempt applications for review. The 17 criteria discussed in this report were selected based on input from staff of various congressional committees of jurisdiction and the IRS as well as from training documents that were not provided to TIGTA in the prior audit.

WHAT TIGTA FOUND
TIGTA found that, from August 2004 through June 2013, the IRS potentially used 259 criteria to identify tax-exempt applications for further review. Most of these criteria involved issues besides political campaign intervention, such as potential fraud, abuse, and links to terrorism.

In the prior audit, TIGTA found that the IRS used a tracking sheet to show which potential political cases were selected for further review; however, IRS management stated that case listings such as the one provided in the prior audit were not required. Due to the lack of case listings for all but one of the 17 criteria, TIGTA used various sources to identify more than 900 cases that could potentially have been selected for review based on the 17 criteria. However, TIGTA could not verify whether all relevant cases were identified.

Based on TIGTA’s review of case documentation, 181 of the more than 900 cases had evidence of political activities or indications of significant potential political campaign intervention (the subject of the prior audit). Thirty-five of these cases were not processed while the applicable criteria were in use and did not appear to be processed based on the criteria. For the remaining 146 cases, TIGTA determined that 83 were processed based upon the criteria and 63 were processed while the criteria were in use, but TIGTA could not confirm these 63 cases were selected based upon the criteria. Analysis of the 146 cases is shown in each of the 17 sections of the report with information for each of these unique criteria.

Figure 4

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October 6, 2017 in Gov't Reports, IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1610: Inspector General Says IRS Gave Extra Scrutiny To Liberal Groups, Undermining GOP Claims Of Ideological Targeting Of Conservative Groups By IRS

IRS Logo 2Washington Post, Liberal Groups Got IRS Scrutiny, Too, Inspector General Suggests:

A federal watchdog has identified scores of cases in which the Internal Revenue Service may have targeted liberal-leaning groups for extra scrutiny based on their names or political leanings, a finding that could undermine claims that conservatives were unfairly targeted under President Barack Obama.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reviewed cases between 2004 and 2013, which includes the period TIGTA previously examined in a 2013 report that faulted the IRS for using inappropriate political criteria to select groups for heightened scrutiny.

That earlier report found that 96 groups with names referencing “Tea Party,” “Patriot” or “9/12” were selected for intensive review between May 2010 and May 2012, and the House Ways and Means Committee later identified another 152 right-leaning groups that were subjected to scrutiny. Those findings fueled accusations by Republican lawmakers that the Obama administration engaged in politically motivated targeting of conservatives.

But Democrats have long challenged those claims, arguing that liberal-leaning groups were given close scrutiny alongside the conservative groups. The 2013 TIGTA report, they argued, was based on selective criteria that omitted numerous nonconservative groups that were also subjected to close IRS review.

The new report examines a broader range of criteria used by the IRS. It does not characterize the politics of the groups that were selected for scrutiny, a TIGTA spokeswoman emphasized Wednesday. But many of the 17 criteria the report examined had obvious political overtones — including affiliation with the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), as well as names referencing “Progressive,” “Green Energy,” “Medical Marijuana,” and “Occupy.”

Together, the watchdog identified 146 cases in which the IRS examined groups for suspicion of engaging in disallowed political activity using those criteria. Eighty-three of those were definitively chosen for scrutiny because of the selection criteria, the inspector general found; the report could not definitively determine how the other cases were chosen.

The Washington Post reviewed a version of the TIGTA report dated Sept. 28 that has been circulated to various lawmakers and committees on Capitol Hill. The full report is set to be released to the public Thursday.

The new report reiterates the inspector general’s earlier criticism of the IRS review process at the time, calling it “inappropriate” to target groups for scrutiny based on their names rather than on actual evidence of illicit political activity that would leave them ineligible for tax exemptions.

Groups that were selected for review waited months — years, in some cases — for their applications to be reviewed and were subjected to onerous and, in some cases, improper requests for information on their donors and activities. ...

Brady said in a statement Wednesday that the new TIGTA report “reinforces what government watchdogs and congressional investigators have confirmed time and time again: bureaucrats at the IRS, such as Lois Lerner, arbitrarily and haphazardly administered the tax code and targeted taxpayers based on political ideology.” He pledged to “continue holding the IRS accountable for their actions.”

Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), who served as the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee during the height of the IRS scandal, said Wednesday that the report confirmed “political manipulation by the Republicans.” “They were trying to squeeze whatever political juice they could out of this,” he said. “Incompetence is different than a political witch hunt. There never was one, at least one that anybody could identify.”

DeBonis

Brunson

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October 5, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (5)

The IRS Scandal, Days 1501-1600

October 5, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 22, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1597: New Details Of Targeting Of Conservative Groups Emerge In Tea Party Lawsuits

IRS Logo 2Cincinnati Enquirer, New Details Emerge in Tea Party Suit Against IRS:

The IRS used the political views of conservative "tea party" groups trying to get nonprofit status as a reason for extra scrutiny and continued delaying applications until 2013 — long after they said they'd stopped — new federal court filings allege.

The new accusations counter previous IRS claims that agents did not consider political beliefs when slowing down tax-exempt applications from right-leaning groups in the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

The IRS had instead argued that it was merely monitoring whether the groups were conducting more political activity than was allowed.

The filings by conservative groups suing the IRS also state the agency continued the practice after IRS officials said it had stopped in 2011. ...

"By trying to make this about whether this was done to help Obama win is setting the goalpost artificially too high," Eddie Greim, a lawyer representing conservative groups in the class-action suit, said in an interview with The Enquirer. "All we have to prove is whether they had the intent and if they indeed treated a set of groups differently based on their ideology. ...

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Terrrace Park, who was one of the first in Congress to publicly complain in 2012 about the IRS' possible discrimination against conservative nonprofit groups, said that the practice was "an appalling abuse of power" in a statement to The Enquirer. “It’s clear that the Obama administration’s IRS illegally and intentionally targeted conservative groups for their ideological beliefs, and those responsible ... need to be held accountable," Portman said. ...

[O]thers testified in depositions that Lerner ordered IRS agents to send requests for additional information from the affected groups following that 2011 meeting. That included requests for donor information, normally considered off-limits. Lerner "wanted everyone to know that we are handling the cases as we should," testified Cindy Thomas, the top nonprofit official in Cincinnati at the time.

"So after they were told that this was possibly improper, they doubled down and kept going," Greim said. "This goes well beyond the narrative of what's been reported before."

Greim also said that the IRS removed two Washington agents who had raised questions about the extra scrutiny on the tea party cases. "These two found that ideology was indeed being used, raised questions about it and told their superiors about it and that it was going to cause delay," Greim said. "And wouldn't you know it, they were moved off the matter soon thereafter."

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September 22, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1589: The Better IRS Reform

IRS Logo 2

Wall Street Journal editorial, The Better IRS Reform:

The long saga of Lois Lerner is coming to a close. Ms. Lerner was the infamous Obama Administration cat’s paw at the Internal Revenue Service, which harassed conservative political groups in the Tea Party era. Now the Trump Justice Department has decided there is no cause to pursue criminal charges against Ms. Lerner, and Congressional Republicans are howling. ...

Republicans are furious. But this mess happened because the Obama Administration used federal bureaucracies for raw political purposes. If Mr. Sessions’s Justice Department has found no way to prove criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt, Republicans could begin the road back to accountability by respecting that decision.

What House Republicans should do now is create a structure that will stop assaults by bureaucrats on political activity. They’ve been putting riders in spending bills to bar the IRS from imposing restrictions on nonprofit speech. But this thumbs-in-the-dike approach does nothing about powers that IRS functionaries already have over political activity.

The solution is to get the IRS out of the political arena by limiting its role to the most basic administrative task of giving initial approval to nonprofits. Transfer to the Federal Election Commission the job of deciding whether a nonprofit is abiding by the existing rules governing political spending. The FEC’s commissioners would decide if complaints against the political activities of nonprofits had merit.

Democrats will rebel because the design of the FEC makes it difficult to sic the commission on political enemies. That’s why they made the IRS their political enforcer. Legislators designed the FEC to prevent partisans from turning it into a political weapon.

It takes a majority vote among its six bipartisan FEC commissioners to proceed with a judgment. Commissioners are confirmed by the Senate and operate in the open. The status quo gives this job—and power—to the IRS’s unconfirmed, unseen federal bureaucrats.

Campaign-finance fights make Republicans nervous, but they’ve got a political self-interest in permanently transferring this job to the FEC. Once back in power, Democrats will mobilize a crackdown against their single biggest obsession—“dark money.” Meaning the conservatives who fund their opposition.

Lois Lerner’s IRS operation was the swamp at its worst. The GOP would do the country’s politics a favor by draining these bureaucrats of partisan political power.

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September 14, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1587: Judicial Watch Says Trump Should Overrule His DOJ And Order A Full Review Of The IRS Scandal

IRS Logo 2

Town Hall, Judicial Watch: DOJ Giving Lerner a Pass is Bogus and Trump Should Order a Full Review of the Scandal:

Last week the Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, announced prosecutors will not pursue charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner. Lerner is infamous for her deliberate targeting of conservative tea party groups between 2010 and 2012 while leading the tax exempt department inside the agency.

The news was immediately met with outrage by House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, who said the failure to reopen the case against Lerner (which was closed without charges under the Obama administration) only proves that Washington bureaucrats are held to a much lower standard than every day Americans living outside the protective D.C. bubble. ...

Judicial Watch, which is still pursuing documents related to the IRS targeting scandal and has for years, proving Lerner was at the heart of the targeting, is buying none of it and calling on President Trump to intervene.

"I have zero confidence that the Justice Department did an adequate review of the IRS scandal. In fact, we’re still fighting the Justice Department and the IRS for records about this very scandal. Today’s [Friday's] decision comes as no surprise considering that the FBI collaborated with the IRS and is unlikely to investigate or prosecute itself," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton released in a statement. "President Trump should order a complete review of the whole issue. Meanwhile, we await accountability for IRS Commissioner Koskinen, who still serves and should be drummed out of office."

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September 12, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (6)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1584: Trump’s DOJ Won’t Pursue Criminal Charges Against Lois Lerner

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September 9, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1582: Is The IRS Scandal About To Break Wide Open?

IRS Logo 2PJ Media, Is the IRS Scandal About to Break Wide Open?:

Lost emails, destroyed hard drives, foot dragging, stonewalling, and a smirking, sneering IRS commissioner doing his best to obscure the truth -- this has largely been the response by the Internal Revenue Service to investigations by Congress and FOIA requests from conservative groups trying to discover the truth about the IRS targeting scandal.

But one federal judge appears to be just as curious as the rest of us about what exactly the IRS was up to when it targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny in approving their tax-exempt status. ...

Although the arrogance of the IRS is breathtaking, it looks like they may have more than they can handle with Judge Walton. With the agency already proving that it tried to hide documents directly related to a FOIA request, how much nonsense will Walton put up with? He better have a low tolerance for word games and shenanigans by the IRS.

More names means more witnesses to be deposed under oath. Perhaps some promises of immunity are in order so that the truth can be wrung out of an agency that has been used to target the political opponents of a president and materially affect the ability of conservative groups to exercise their rights.

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September 7, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1580: Conservative Group Hoping For 'Perp Walks' After Breakthrough In IRS Lawsuit

IRS Logo 2Washington Examiner, Conservative Group Hoping for 'Perp Walks' After Breakthrough in IRS Lawsuit:

One of the groups that sued the Internal Revenue Service over its targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups believes there has been a breakthrough that will help them draw a more complete picture of what went on behind the scenes at the agency, four years after it took its case to court.

In a lawsuit involving True the Vote, Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the IRS last week to release the names of employees involved in targeting conservative and Tea Party groups. Walton also told the IRS to explain why groups were targeted and search for additional records in agency databases from May 2009 to March 2015.

The IRS has until Oct. 16 to complete its records search.

Walton's order was a turning point for True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht in her legal battle with the IRS that began in 2013.

"We've come so far, and I believe that we are going to bring this thing to a head," Engelbrecht told the Washington Examiner. "I believe we will see the IRS correct its ways, and as to accountability, I'd love to see some perp walks." ...

Engelbrecht ... said just learning the names of those involved isn't enough for her. Instead, she wants the IRS to enact a policy prohibiting viewpoint discrimination. "That's our whole goal — it's to make sure this viewpoint discrimination can never occur again. It is procedurally prohibited," Engelbrecht said. "That they admit what they did was unconstitutional and won't happen to an organization, an individual, doesn't matter your political party preference. The IRS has been weaponized and needs to be put back in the box."

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September 5, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, September 1, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1576: Will Justice Come For IRS Lawbreakers At Last?

IRS Logo 2Investor's Business Daily editorial, Will Justice Come For IRS Lawbreakers At Last?:

The IRS scandal seemingly has lain dormant now for months, all but forgotten amid the spate of recent anti-Trump media spasms, the ongoing violent antics of the antifa leftists and, now, Hurricane Harvey's devastation. But even if much of Washington has forgotten about it, a Washington judge hasn't.

As reported by the Washington Examiner, Judge Reggie B. Walton of the Washington, D.C., District Court last week revived legal attention to the scandal, telling the IRS it has to reveal the names of IRS employees who targeted conservative, libertarian and Tea Party groups.

But Walton didn't stop there. He also gave the IRS until Oct. 16 to find all the records in IRS databases from May 2009 to March 2015 that are relevant to the case and to explain just why these groups were targeted.

All of this is the result of a suit against the IRS brought in 2013 by True the Vote and 38 other groups. The groups have doggedly pursued the IRS for four years after the tax agency held up their tax-exempt status before and during the 2012 election year for what appear to be blatantly political reasons. In their search for justice, the groups have had little help from the mostly apathetic, left-leaning media that wish conservative groups would just go away. ...

Paul Caron, dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law and himself a tax lawyer, has kept a lonely vigil at his blog on the IRS' questionable actions in all this, running a virtually day-by-day account of the news behind the scandal, which as of Monday by his count was in its 1,572nd day (and counting).

With so little action, on Monday Caron wondered plaintively, "Why did it go away?" Well, we've wondered that too.

Caron quotes a piece from the Nonprofit Quarterly that notes that since May 2013 there have been "several congressional and other investigations but no criminal indictments or known personnel actions against  anyone involved in the targeting. ... The U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation, but in the midst of that investigation, they announced there would be no indictments." ...

By seeking maximum disclosure, Walton is doing yeoman's duty in making the IRS accountable. We wish him success in prying open the IRS' chest of dirty secrets.

But that's not enough. At the very least, it's time the U.S. Department of Justice stopped defending the indefensible, and started forcing the rogue tax-collection agency and its former executives to answer for its politically motivated crimes. As the old saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.

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September 1, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1574: Why Are Trump’s Justice Department Appointees Protecting The IRS?

IRS Logo 2The Daily Signal, Why Are Trump’s Justice Department Appointees Protecting the IRS?

Various media sources have reported that federal District Court Judge Reggie Walton has ordered the IRS to finally respond to various legal requests for information and documents made by the conservative tea party organizations that sued the agency.

But the question that no one is asking is why that order was even necessary, and why the Justice Department, which is now supposedly under the control and authority of the new administration, hasn’t reversed its obstinate, inflexible, and stubborn defense of the IRS. ...

[T]he Tax Division of the Justice Department, which is currently headed by acting Assistant Attorney General David A. Hubbert, has put up a mulish fight defending the IRS, including doing everything it can to prevent the IRS from having to provide any of the information and documentation that the plaintiffs are seeking about the targeting.

[T]he IRS — after four years of delays — is going to finally have to tell us who (in addition to Lerner) planned, organized, and participated in the abuse of the government’s tax power to target Americans for their participation in the political process, their opposition to Obama and liberal policies, and their support for the Constitution and the rule of law.

Walton’s order is a significant victory for the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. But why were this hearing and this order even necessary in the first place?

As soon as President Donald Trump was inaugurated and the first members of the Trump transition team landed at the Justice Department, one of the first steps they should have taken was to order the Tax Division to stop its deliberate litigation strategy of fighting all attempts to ferret out what exactly happened at the IRS, and who was responsible for it.

Instead, the Justice Department has continued to obstruct discovery in this lawsuit that has been going on for four long years, resulting in Walton’s Aug. 17 order against the IRS and the Justice Department. ...

What are the political appointees at the Justice Department doing? Why are they continuing to protect the IRS? Why are they trying to stop the efforts to find out who at the IRS was responsible for this abusive behavior?

And while we are on the subject of the IRS scandal, why haven’t Trump’s political appointees at the Justice Department reversed the refusal of Ronald Machen, former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, (who was an Obama appointee) to enforce the contempt citation issued by the House of Representatives against Lerner for her refusal to cooperate with the congressional committee investigating this abusive conduct?

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August 30, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, August 28, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1572: Why Did It Go Away?

IRS Logo 2Nonprofit Quarterly, Whatever Happened to the IRS Tax Exemption Scandal?:

On Friday, May 10, 2013, IRS Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner told a stunned audience of tax attorneys in Washington that the IRS had delayed and obstructed the tax exemption applications from conservative-sounding organizations. Later that month, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General made public a report confirming and detailing the nature of the targeting. What began as a governmental investigation had become a legal battle between nonprofits seeking what they believed to be information and resolution on the one hand and the federal government asserting claims of protecting taxpayer and employee confidentiality on the other.

As NPQ has chronicled in dozens of articles, the ensuing four years and counting since May 2013 have included several Congressional and other investigations but no criminal indictments or known personnel actions against anyone involved in the targeting. ... The U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation, but in the midst of that investigation, they announced there would be no indictments. Various Congressional committees attempted to ferret out what happened and who did it but were stymied by the IRS’s slow responses to records requests and, in some cases, destruction of computer media which might have contained important information.

The Congressional investigations rapidly became partisan, with Republicans insistent that crimes had been committed and that senior officials had to be held accountable for actions which affected hundreds of organizations and may have even affected the conduct of the 2012 elections. Democrats saw the GOP-led investigations as a partisan witch hunt targeting career IRS employees and used as a political talking point to harass President Obama specifically. Democrats also objected to the continued use of the IRS budget as a coercive tool to force IRS officials to cooperate in the investigations, and justifying decreasing funding for IRS operations by pointing to what Republicans said was obstruction. The investigations didn’t so much end as they petered out as politicians moved on to other topics. ...

Meanwhile, nonprofit organizations like Judicial Watch, Cause for Action, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), and others have used Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and legal challenges to aggressively pursue the facts and circumstances surrounding the actions of IRS personnel. In addition, many of the targeted nonprofit organizations (most were eventually approved for tax exemption after awaiting a decision for up to seven years) have pursued their own legal cases in federal court.

Bloomberg BNA recently published a status report on the litigation. The text of the article has since been removed in favor of an audio report, but Paul Caron’s TaxProf Blog includes snapshots of the key cases: ...

Détente in this intergovernmental cold war will likely come only when change and accommodation comes from the IRS or when Congressional control switches parties. In the meantime, the continuing lawsuits and the long memories (not to mention political interests) of some elected officials portend more budgetary and regulatory stress at the IRS for the indefinite future.

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August 28, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1568: (Still) Seeking IRS Accountability

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal editorial, (Still) Seeking IRS Accountability:

The Obama Justice Department dismissed the IRS political targeting scandal as no big deal, and the Trump Administration hasn’t been any better. At least the judiciary is still trying to hold someone to account for this government abuse.

In a little noticed decision last week, federal Judge Reggie Walton ordered the IRS to answer a series of questions by Oct. 16. Notably, the tax agency must finally explain the specific reasons for the specific delays in approving each of dozens of conservative nonprofit applications—delays that stifled free speech during a midterm and presidential election. Judge Walton is also requiring the IRS to name the specific individuals that it holds responsible for the targeting.

These are basic questions of political accountability, even if the IRS has stonewalled since 2013. President Obama continued to spin that the targeting was the result of some “boneheaded” IRS line officers in Cincinnati who didn’t understand tax law. Yet Congressional investigations have uncovered clear evidence that the targeting was ordered and directed out of Washington. ...

The Trump Administration also has a duty to provide some answers. The Justice Department and IRS have continued to resist the lawsuits as doggedly as they did in the Obama era. Attorney General Jeff Sessions can change that by ordering government attorneys to quickly and fully comply with Judge Walton’s orders. Seven years is too long to wait for answers over abuses of the government’s taxing power.

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August 24, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1563: Judge Orders IRS To Disclose Names Of Employees Who Targeted Conservative Groups And To Prove That It Has Stopped The Practice

IRS Logo 2Washington Times, Lay It on the Line’: Judge in Tea Party Case Orders IRS to Disclose Employee Names, Reasons:

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the IRS to name the specific employees the agency blames for targeting tea party groups for intrusive scrutiny and said the government must prove it has ceased the targeting.

Judge Reggie B. Walton also said the IRS must explain the reasons for the delays for 38 groups that are part of a lawsuit in the District of Columbia, where they are still looking for a full accounting of their treatment.

Judge Walton approved another round of limited discovery in the case and laid out six questions that the IRS must answer, including the employees’ names, why the groups were targeted and how the IRS has tried to prevent a repeat.

At a hearing earlier this week, Judge Walton said it was time to get everything on the table. “Lay it on the line. Put it out there,” he told attorneys for the IRS, who are continuing to fight some tea party groups’ demands for full disclosure. ...

Judge Walton came down in the middle, writing his own set of inquiries for the IRS. “Why hide the ball?” he asked the tax agency. “If there’s nothing there, there’s nothing there.” Mr. Walton told the IRS to go beyond searching a basic agency database for records and ordered it to scour “other relevant resources containing documents from the relevant time period.”

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August 19, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1561: Why Hasn't Trump Drained The IRS/DOJ Swamp?

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal:  Trump’s IRS Swamp: Obama-era Lawyers Are Still Obstructing Lawsuits to Hold the Agency Accountable, by Kimberley A. Strassel:

Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp, and here’s a seven-month progress report: The Washington bog is still as wide and fetid as ever. Consider that Mr. Trump’s Justice Department has inexplicably continued to defend the IRS’s misdeeds under President Obama.

Voters put a Republican in the White House in part to impose some belated accountability on the scandal-laden Obama administration. And the supreme scandal was the IRS’s assault on tea-party groups—a campaign inspired by congressional Democrats, perpetrated by partisan bureaucrats like Lois Lerner, and covered up by Mr. Obama’s political appointees. This abuse stripped the right to political speech from thousands of Americans over two election cycles. To this day, no one has answered for it.

The groups targeted are still doggedly trying to obtain justice through lawsuits that have dragged on for years. They believed Mr. Trump’s election would bring an end to the government obstruction. It hasn’t. “The posture of the DOJ and the IRS under the Trump administration is identical to the posture under the Obama administration,” Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance, tells me. “Nothing has changed.” ...

The problem is that the same old Obama-era lawyers have been left to run these cases in the same old hostile ways. Who are these people? Laura Beckerman, one of the lead lawyers defending the IRS in the Ohio class action, left government only this month. Her LinkedIn profile says she is now pro bono coordinating counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. CREW is among the most liberal outfits in the capital, fanatically devoted to taking down conservatives. That’s the type still calling the shots in Mr. Trump’s bureaucracy.

The Justice Department’s job is to defend the government, but it is also supposed to pursue justice. And there is no question the IRS did wrong. It has been documented by the Treasury Department’s inspector general and admitted by the IRS itself. It’d be one thing if the plaintiffs were demanding a billion-dollar payout, but they aren’t. Their main request is that the IRS come clean on what happened, and the government is resisting with all its power. The real question is why the Justice Department is even fighting this suit, when it ought to be leading a renewed investigation into what happened and how it got covered up.

It’s time for some judgment. Senior leaders in the Justice Department may be wary of replacing or redirecting attorneys on the IRS cases, fearing it might provoke another round of media caterwauling. The White House may be wary of canning Mr. Koskinen, thinking it would be cast as another high-profile firing. But Mr. Trump was hired to impose exactly that sort of accountability. If he’s going to get rapped for dramatic moves, it might as well be for doing something that serves justice.

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August 17, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1559: Checking In On IRS-Tea Party Lawsuits

IRS Logo 2Bloomberg BNA, Checking in on IRS-Tea Party Lawsuits:

Republicans continue to call for restricting IRS funding and restructuring the agency to ensure there isn’t a repeat of a scandal caused when IRS employees stalled some applications of conservative groups seeking tax exemptions. The IRS has said it worked to resolve the issue.

Still, several lawsuits are pending between the agency and conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. The IRS declined to comment on them. As part of occasional updates on the status of the disputes, here is where some high-profile cases stand now:

NorCal Tea Party Patriots  The IRS Aug. 2 defended its actions in the class action, saying it was within its rights to review exemption applications carefully, but it also acknowledged that it delayed some applications inappropriately (NorCal Tea Party Patriots v. IRS, S.D. Ohio, No.1:13-cv-00341, 8/2/17). ... A trial is set for Feb. 5, 2018.

True the Vote   ... True the Vote in April withdrew two discovery requests: evidence of the IRS using viewpoint-based criteria in tax administration and evidence of the political positions of IRS employees (True the Vote, Inc. v. IRS, D.D.C., No. 1:13-cv-00734, 4/5/17).

Linchpins of Liberty  An Aug. 15 hearing is scheduled on a motion requiring the government to release documents the Linchpins groups requested (Linchpins of Liberty v. United States, D.D.C., No. 1:13-cv-00777, 7/26/17). ...

Freedom Path  The Freedom Path case is set for a June 18, 2018, trial (Freedom Path, Inc. v. IRS, N.D. Tex., No. 3:14-cv-01537, 8/9/17). ... The IRS initially said Freedom Path didn’t qualify as a social welfare group, exempt under Section 501(c)(4) because it didn’t operate just to promote social welfare. The group applied for its exemption in 2011 and sued the IRS in 2014.

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August 15, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1554: Why Is Trump's Justice Department Still Fighting Disclosure Of Documents Revealing IRS Targeting Of Conservative Groups?

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal op-ed:  Obama IRS Abuse Should Unite Trump and Sessions, by Jerome Marcus:

[H]ere’s an issue on which Messrs. Trump and Sessions should be able to find common ground: The Justice Department should stop defending Obama administration corruption.

I’m referring to the cases, still on file today, challenging or seeking to expose Internal Revenue Service policies that delayed applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups. That’s viewpoint discrimination, a clear First Amendment violation.

The Obama Justice Department fought these cases intensely. It tried to get them thrown out of court before the plaintiffs had the chance to gather evidence. When that failed, Justice lawyers resisted discovery, to prevent disclosure of documents showing what the Obama administration was really doing.

That’s normal behavior for a defendant in a lawsuit. But since Jan. 20, the Justice Department has reported to Mr. Trump, who denounced each of the corrupt policies at issue in these cases.

So why is the department handling the cases as if it were still run by Eric Holder or Loretta Lynch? Because many of the career lawyers who were put on these cases by Obama Justice Department officials continue working on them, with no supervision from this administration. Those lawyers are still doing now what they have always done: fighting as hard as they can to prevent disclosure of what the Obama IRS, and the rest of the Obama administration, was doing to the country. ...

The government lawyers in all these cases are working hard to prevent anyone from finding out what the Obama administration was doing. Cleta Mitchell, who has represented tea-party organizations in the IRS viewpoint-targeting scandal, says Justice Department lawyers “have been stalling, obfuscating and doing all they can in these cases to avoid holding the IRS accountable.”

That’s true even though all these lawyers now work for President Trump. And it’s true even though Mr. Trump knows full well that the Obama IRS violated the Constitution by discriminating against opposing viewpoints. ...

Messrs. Trump and Sessions, as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, should all be able to agree on this. The executive branch, through the Justice Department, can on its own agree to release the desired information and end these cases, without any permission from Congress or CNN. That would lighten the workload at Justice and shine sunlight on clearly improper Obama policies.

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August 10, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1552: The IRS's Email Retention Policies Still Do Not Ensure That Emails Are Retained And Produced When Requested

IRS Logo 2Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, Electronic Record Retention Policies Do Not Consistently Ensure That Records Are Retained and Produced When Requested (2017-10-034):

IRS policies do not comply with certain Federal requirements that agencies must ensure that all records are retrievable and usable for as long as needed. For example, IRS e-mail retention policies are not adequate because e-mails are not automatically archived for all IRS employees. Instead, the IRS’s current policy instructs employees to take manual actions to archive e-mails by saving them permanently on computer hard drives or network shared drives.  

This policy has resulted in lost records when computer hard drives are destroyed or damaged. In addition, a recently instituted executive e-mail retention policy, which should have resulted in the archiving of e-mails from specific executives, was not implemented effectively because some executives did not turn on the automatic archiving feature.

For certain cases that TIGTA reviewed, IRS policies were not implemented consistently to ensure that all relevant documents were searched and produced when responding to external requests for records. TIGTA’s review of 30 completed Freedom of Information Act requests found that in more than half of the responses, the IRS did not follow its own policies that require it to document what records were searched. TIGTA also found that IRS policies for preserving records from separated employees were not adequate.

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August 8, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, July 31, 2017

The IRS Scandal, Day 1544:  How Lois Lerner Begat Robert Mueller

IRS Logo 2Wall Street Journal:  Mueller Is Trumping Congress, by William McGurn:

Did Congress learn anything from Lois Lerner? Judging from Capitol Hill’s self-abasing deference to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, the answer is no.

You remember Ms. Lerner. She was the official at the center of an Internal Revenue Service effort that denied conservative political advocacy groups tax-exempt status, or at least held up approval long enough that these groups could not be a factor in the 2012 election.

Back when Republicans were holding hearings on the matter, time and again they were lectured not to do anything that might affect the FBI’s investigation — which eventually ended with no charges against anyone. Though Ms. Lerner was found in contempt by the House for her refusal to testify, it proved all for show.

The tip-off came when then-Speaker John Boehner, rather than use Congress’s inherent contempt power to jail Ms. Lerner until she talked, opted for classic swamp symbolism — by passing the buck to an Obama Justice Department everyone knew would never prosecute her.

The result? Ms. Lerner avoided having to answer any hard questions. The IRS merrily continued to lose or destroy crucial documents. And John Koskinen, the awful replacement IRS commissioner who stonewalled and misled, remains in office.

The Lois Lerner fiasco offers a sobering lesson for a Congress whose various committees are holding hearings on Russia’s intervention in last year’s elections as Mr. Mueller investigates the same. While Mr. Mueller’s office is a watered-down version of Ken Starr’s or Lawrence Walsh’s , it remains true that special prosecutors corrupt even if they don’t corrupt as absolutely as independent counsels. The main headlines of the past week — Is Donald Trump attempting to undermine Mr. Mueller? Will Trump Fire Mueller? — all speak to the challenge a special prosecutor poses to the constitutional authority of the president.

Far less scrutiny has been devoted to the challenge Mr. Mueller poses to the authority of the legislative branch. In this case, ironically, the challenge stems less from the aggressiveness of the special prosecutor than from the meekness of Congress. In between their public tributes to Mr. Mueller’s sterling character, too many in Congress seem to worry more about how they might be affecting his investigation than about what his investigation might be doing to theirs.

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July 31, 2017 in IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink | Comments (6)