Agreeing with a theory put forth by Democratic pollster Pat Caddell, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said on Monday that the GOP establishment has failed to push for a higher-level investigation into the IRS because they want the tax agency to “go after the Tea Party.”
“When you have 71% who want an investigation, 64% who believe it is a sign of corruption including nearly a majority of Democrats, the reason is the establishment Republicans want the IRS to go after the Tea Party,” Limbaugh said.
The Tea Party represents an “outside threat to their power hold,” he explained.
Limbaugh went even further, theorizing that the GOP might even be willing to lose elections in order to get rid of the Tea Party.
“That’s why there hasn’t been any establishment Republican pushback on the IRS,” he added. “It’s almost safe to say the Republican establishment might be willing to lose a couple of elections if it meant getting rid of the Tea Party; because it’s clear, folks, they don’t want to win any elections the Tea Party can claim any credit for.”
IRS employees were “acutely” aware in 2010 that President Obama wanted to crack down on conservative organizations and were egged into targeting tea party groups by press reports mocking the emerging movement, according to an interim report being circulated Tuesday by House investigators.
In the report, the investigators do not find evidence that IRS employees received orders from politicians to target the tea party, and agency officials deny overt bias or political motives.
But the report says the IRS was at least taking cues from political leaders and designed special policies to review tea party applications, including dispatching some of them to Washington to be vetted by headquarters.
“As prominent politicians publicly urged the IRS to take action on tax-exempt groups engaged in legal campaign intervention activities, the IRS treated tea party applications differently,” the staff report concludes. “Applications filed by tea party groups were identified and grouped due to media attention surrounding the existence of the tea party in general.”
That finding contradicts Democrats on Capitol Hill, who argue that some liberal groups also were given special scrutiny, thus showing there was neither a witch hunt for conservatives nor political pressure from the White House.
“The fact is that not a single piece of evidence has been unearthed that suggests there was any political motivation or outside involvement,” Democratic staffers on the House Ways and Means Committee said in a memo Tuesday outlining the state of the investigation. “Republicans, however, believe that if they continue to repeat their baseless accusations of a ‘White House enemies’ list, it will become true.”
For years, Republicans in Congress charged that the IRS was targeting specific groups, but top agency officials denied it.
But four months ago, with an inspector general’s report about to be released, the IRS carefully staged a question at a conference so officials could reveal that they had been treating tea party applications differently.
Several congressional committees have since opened investigations including open hearings, document requests and depositions of agency employees.
The latest oversight report is meant to take stock of where the investigation stands and to lay out what Republicans know and what they suspect. The report says the conclusions are preliminary and that tens of thousands of pages of documents have yet to be examined.
In one of the key findings, investigators said negative press coverage of the tea party was one reason why the IRS gave the groups special scrutiny.
“It was my understanding that the reason they were identified is because they were likely to attract media attention,” Steven Grodnitzky, one of the employees in the exempt organizations division, told investigators.
Another supervisory employee in Washington, Ronald Shoemaker, also said press attention helped shape IRS policies, telling investigators that media attention to those cases “was the basis” for designating them as significant cases requiring special examination.
The Republican oversight report traces the growing pressure on the IRS to act, beginning with Mr. Obama’s criticism of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in his 2010 State of the Union address to calls from top members of Congress for the IRS to give special scrutiny to tea party applications.
IRS TARGETS GROUPS SIMPLY BECAUSE OF ANTI-OBAMA REMARKS.
Gregory Korte, USA TODAY8:56 p.m. EDT September 17, 2013
WASHINGTON — Newly uncovered IRS documents show the agency flagged political groups based on the content of their literature, raising concerns specifically about “anti-Obama rhetoric,” inflammatory language and “emotional” statements made by non-profits seeking tax-exempt status.
The internal 2011 documents, obtained by USA TODAY, list 162 groups by name, with comments by Internal Revenue Service lawyers in Washington raising issues about their political, lobbying and advocacy activities. In 21 cases, those activities were characterized as “propaganda.”
The list provides the most specific public accounting to date of which groups were targeted for extra scrutiny and why. The IRS has not publicly identified the groups, repeatedly citing a provision of the tax code prohibiting it from releasing tax return information.
More than 80% of the organizations on the 2011 “political advocacy case” list were conservative, but the effort to police political activity also ensnared at least 11 liberal groups as of November 2011, including Progressives United, Progress Texas and Delawareans for Social and Economic Justice.
The IRS controversy first exploded in May, when Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner admitted that the IRS had targeted Tea Party groups for additional scrutiny beginning in early 2010. The IRS placed a hold on those applications for more than 20 months, an inspector general’s investigation found.
On Nov. 16, 2011, IRS lawyers in Washington sent a list of cases to front-line agents in Cincinnati, along with comments and guidance on how to handle political organizations.
Tax law experts say those comments appear to show IRS employees trying to apply the murky rules governing political activities by social welfare groups.
But the American Center for Law and Justice, a nonprofit legal institute that represents 23 of the groups appearing on the IRS list, said it appears to be “the most powerful evidence yet of a coordinated effort” by the IRS to target Tea Party groups.
“The political motivations of this are so patently obvious, but then to have a document that spells it out like this is very damaging to the IRS,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the ACLJ. “I hope the FBI has seen these documents.”
The IRS categorized the groups as engaging in several advocacy-related activities that could have barred them from tax-exempt status, such as lobbying and “propaganda.”
But the word “propaganda” doesn’t appear in section 501(c)(4), which governs the social welfare status that most Tea Party groups were applying for, said John Colombo, a law professor at the University of Illinois. Instead, it appears in section 501(c)(3), which governs public charities.
“There would be no reason I would think to flag them if it’s for a 501(c)(4) status,” Colombo said. “That’s very odd to me.”
In three cases, IRS lawyers noted that groups appeared to be connected to Republican politicians: Stand Up for Our Nation Inc., linked to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin; Reform Jersey Now Inc., linked to Gov. Chris Christie; and American Solutions for Winning the Future, founded by former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich’s group was approved last year.
Five groups were flagged as having “anti-Obama” materials in their applications or on their websites.
For instance, the IRS said the website of the Patriots of Charleston contains “negative Obama commentary.” Though the IRS didn’t cite examples, a November 2011 article on the group’s site says: “Obama’s and the Democrats’ track record of disaster is based upon a combination of their ignorance and their fundamental desire to convert America into a ruling class of wealthy all-powerful elitists and a single class of serfs.”
“The web site, as we explained to them on multiple occasions, is really a blog” that members can submit commentary to, said Joanne Jones, the group’s vice chairwoman. “I’m not going to tell you we weren’t political. We were to an extent, but we were within the limits of the law. For example, there’s one clear-cut issue: We did not endorse candidates.”
“To focus in on somebody saying something anti-Obama,” she said, “it’s almost like the speech police there. It’s disturbing. It’s the kind of overreach that leads into Obamacare.”
The group received its tax exemption in September 2012.
RHETORIC OF SOME GROUPS QUESTIONED
It wasn’t just anti-Obama rhetoric the IRS was looking out for. Progress Texas was identified by the IRS as engaging in lobbying, propaganda and political activities. IRS lawyers in Washington noted “anti-Rick Perry” rhetoric, referring to the Republican Texas governor, then a presidential candidate.
Progress Texas received a tax exemption as a social welfare group in June, 2012.
Campaign-finance watchdogs say the IRS scrutiny came out of a justified effort to police “dark money” in politics. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that corporations and unions — and even non-profit groups — could engage in independent political advertising, social welfare groups became a vehicle for funneling undisclosed cash into the election system.
That’s the position of Progressives United, a group founded by former senator Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that itself appeared on the 2011 IRS target list.
“The fact that our group received some scrutiny does not change at all our opinion that scrutiny like this from the IRS, it’s their job. The law applies to us as it would any conservative group,” said Progressives United’s Josh Orton. “I feel like there’s this group of campaign finance nihilists who want to expand this into an argument that there should be no scrutiny at all. They want a wild west of election law, because they want to continue using secret corporate money to influence elections.”
Crossroads GPS, a group affiliated with GOP strategist Karl Rove, spent $70 million on the 2012 election. Its 2010 application for a tax exemption, obtained by the non-profit news organization Pro Publica last year, said it would spend 50% of its resources on “public education.” In the 2011 list, the IRS noted “significant anti-Obama rhetoric.” Crossroads has not received a tax exemption.
‘WE ARE TOTALLY ABOVE BOARD’
The Tea Party of North Idaho filed its tax-exempt application in February, 2010 — the same month IRS screeners in Cincinnati first brought Tea Party applications to the attention of officials in Washington, according to IRS employee testimony before a congressional committee.
A lawyer in the IRS Exempt Organizations Technical Unit in Washington wrote the Idaho group had “No significant amount of clear campaign intervention; however little issue advocacy or educational; significant inflammatory language, highly emotional language, little to no educational information on issues.”
The IRS lawyers recommended that screeners in Cincinnati look for other materials — including “press releases, commentary, articles, and research reports,” according to the IRS list.
That’s when Leslie Damiano, who co-founded the North Idaho group, started getting what she considered to be intrusive questions from the IRS. She said the tax agency wanted to know who her donors were, and what companies they own. They wanted to know the educational background of the group’s board members. And they wanted to know whether candidates were invited to the group’s meetings, and whether it made endorsements.
“We’re a conservative organization. We invited some independents,” she said. “We never had any rallies that were off the charts by any stretch of the imagination.”
Frustrated with the process, the Tea Party of North Idaho withdrew its application in 2012.
“We had an accountant, we had a bookkeeper. We were totally above board with everything we did,” Damiano said.
Some groups caught in the IRS’ net had no connection to national politics on either side. The Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Murrysville says it’s “dedicated to the preservation of the open and natural, rural character of Murrysville, Pa.,” although the IRS said it endorsed some local candidates. The Sarasota Bay Tiger Club is one of several similar Florida clubs that provide “a non-partisan forum on current political issues.” The club says it has “never endorsed political candidates nor advocated a particular ideology,” but the IRS said in its spreadsheet that it was “unclear” if that was the case.
The list also includes the Association to Reduce the National Debt, which was seeking to be recognized as a charity so it could solicit tax-deductible contributions — and give those contributions to the U.S. Treasury to put toward the national debt.
Founder Seth Eisenberg said the group was not political — and he told the IRS that.
IRS tax specialists noted “no political campaign activities.” But two years after applying, the association still hasn’t gotten his ruling letter. And without that letter, contributions are not tax-deductible and no one will give, he said.
All for a group that said it wanted to give the government money.
“I thought this would be a fast-tracked application. A no-brainer. But it got caught up in this whole political controversy,” Eisenberg said. “It’s the greatest irony that ever was.”
Tea Party activists appear to be virtually unanimous in their support for the position taken by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who said on Tuesday the United States “should not serve as Al-Qaeda’s Air Force.”
Lynn Moss, co-organizer of the Mid-South Tea Party in Memphis, Tennessee, expressed a view held by many Tea Party activists around the country. Moss told Breitbart News on Thursday, “both sides of the conflict in Syria are enemies of the United States. It would be foolish,” she said, “and self-defeating to involve ourselves in this already volatile situation.”
Joanne Jones, vice chairman of the Charleston Tea Party in South Carolina, told Breitbart News Thursday that “conservatives of many stripes are opposed to U.S. military intervention in Syria. Particularly in light of today’s account of al Qaeda-linked rebels murdering residents of a Christian village, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince us that the United States would indeed be helping the ‘right’ rebels.”
Bobby Alexander, chairman of the Central Kentucky Tea Party Patriots, told Mother Jones, “[c]onservatives in Kentucky do not want us involved in Syria.” John Kemper of the United Kentucky Tea Party added, “[t]he things I’m seeing and emails I’m getting from folks around the state, they’re not in favor of [an American attack on Syria.]”
Mark Kevin Lloyd, a Tea Party activist in Virginia, told Breitbart News that “the Obama administration and some in the Republican leadership seems overly concerned about the president’s credibility in the eyes of the world. Both President Obama and Speaker Boehner need to understand they each have the same credibility problems in the eyes of the American people.
“How can the president be so sure of the situation in Syria, and so clueless about Benghazi? Too many questions, not nearly enough answers.”
Bruce Carroll, chairman of Carolina Conservatives United, told Breitbart News, “we share the humanitarian concern for the Syrian people who have been killed and injured by conventional weapons and chemical weapons and the millions of refugees that are suffering due to that nation’s two-year civil war.
For Carroll, though, such concerns do not justify American intervention. “We strongly believe the situation in Syria will not improve, and could well deteriorate, due to American military involvement,” he said. “Additionally, we do not believe President Obama has adequately made the case that any national security interests are at stake, a minimum requirement for military actions abroad.”
Mark West, founder of the Chattanooga Tea Party in Tennessee told Breitbart News Thursday: “while Americans have come to expect flawed and disastrous foreign policy decisions from the Obama administration, what is alarming is the foolish part that Republicans are playing in embracing and facilitating Obama’s latest plan to attack Syria.”
According to West, “what should be painfully obvious to any alert American is that Obama’s plan (and now his Republican allies’) to launch “limited” attacks into a highly volatile war zone has the strong likelihood of escalating into a broader and protracted war. And if this occurs, Tennesseans will remember the fateful role that Senator Corker and other Republicans played in endorsing another one of Obama’s helter-skelter foreign policy initiatives.”
Though President Obama maintains he does not need Congressional authorization to conduct military action against Syria, he has nonetheless agreed to ask for Congressional support, without promising that he will be bound by votes taken in the House and Senate on the issue. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10 to 7 to support President Obama’s call for an American air strike on Syria. Votes in the full Senate as well as in the House are expected to take place soon.
With those important votes looming, members of the Senate and the House are hearing from their constituents, the vast majority of whom oppose such action, according to recent polls. The virtually unanimous sentiment of Tea Party activists appears to be leading public opinion throughout the country in its opposition to American military attacks on Syria.
In a remarkable admission that is likely to rock the Internal Revenue Service again, testimony released Thursday by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp reveals that an agent involved in reviewing tax exempt applications from conservative groups told a committee investigator that the agency is still targeting Tea Party groups, three months after the IRS scandal erupted..
In closed door testimony before the House Ways & Means Committee, the unidentified IRS agent said requests for special tax status from Tea Party groups is being forced into a special “secondary screening” because the agency has yet to come up with new guidance on how to judge the tax status of the groups.
In a transcript from the committee provided to Secrets, a Ways & Means investigator asked: “If you saw — I am asking this currently, if today if a Tea Party case, a group — a case from a Tea Party group came in to your desk, you reviewed the file and there was no evidence of political activity, would you potentially approve that case? Is that something you would do?”
The agent said, “At this point I would send it to secondary screening, political advocacy.”
The committee staffer then said, “So you would treat a Tea Party group as a political advocacy case even if there was no evidence of political activity on the application. Is that right?” The agent admitted, “Based on my current manager’s direction, uh-huh.”
Camp called the renewed targeting of Tea Party groups “outrageous.”
Added a committee aide, “In plain English, the IRS is still targeting Tea Party cases.”
During 2010-2012 period when the anti-Obama Tea Party groups faced special scrutiny from the president’s IRS, agents used a “be on the lookout,” or BOLO, list which said groups with words like “Tea Party” in their title should face special, secondary screening for political activities that might hamper their special tax status.
But because there is nothing in its place, agents apparently either don’t know how to handle Tea Party tax exempt applications, or are too scared to make a decision.
Asked by the committee how it handles Tea Party applications, the agent said, “If a political advocacy case came in today, I would give it — or talk about it to my manager because right now we really don’t have any direction or we haven’t had any for the last month and a half.”
Camp, the Michigan Republican, told Secrets, “It is outrageous that IRS management continues to target Tea Party cases without any justification. The harassment, abuse and delays these Americans have faced over the last few years has been unwarranted, unprovoked and, at times, possibly illegal. The fact that the IRS still continues to treat the Tea Party differently and subject them to additional targeting is outrageous and it must stop immediately.”
Below is the Ways & Means Committee transcript of the IRS official.
Wednesday, August 1, 2013
Committee: Today, currently, how do you analyze advocacy cases. If, for example, Tea Party of Arkansas came in today, how would you handle it?
IRS agent: Well, the BOLO list doesn’t exist anymore.
IRS: If a political advocacy case came in today, I would give it — or talk about it to my manager because right now we really don’t have any direction or we haven’t had any for the last month and a half.
Committee: If you saw — I am asking this currently, if today if a Tea Party case, a group — a case from a Tea Party group came in to your desk, you reviewed the file and there was no evidence of political activity, would you potentially approve that case? Is that something you would do?
IRS agent: At this point I would send it to secondary screening, political advocacy.
Committee: So you would treat a Tea Party group as a political advocacy case even if there was no evidence of political activity on the application. Is that right?
IRS agent: Based on my current manager’s direction, uh-huh.
Charlie Rangel: Tea Party Is ‘Same Group’ Of ‘White Crackers’ Who Fought Civil Rights
In an interview with the Daily Beast published Friday, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) suggested Tea Partiers are the “same group” who fought for segregation during the Civil Rights movement.
“It is the same group we faced in the South with those white crackers and the dogs and the police. They didn’t care about how they looked,” Rangel said.
Because of this, Rangel said the Tea Party could be defeated using the same tactics employed against Jim Crow.
“It was just fierce indifference to human life that caused America to say enough is enough. ‘I don’t want to see it and I am not a part of it.’ What the hell! If you have to bomb little kids and send dogs out against human beings, give me a break,” said Rangel.
Give you a break? Charlie here is your break: You get to use a racist epithet with no accountability. If a white member of Congress talked like you they would be out of a job. You get to lie about the Tea Party. If a white member of congress make the same generalization about any liberal group the media would form a posse. You get to continue the false narrative that it is the white man who is destroying the black community.
The IRS scandal was connected this week not just to the Washington office—that had been established—but to the office of the chief counsel.
That is a bombshell—such a big one that it managed to emerge in spite of an unfocused, frequently off-point congressional hearing in which some members seemed to have accidentally woken up in the middle of a committee room, some seemed unaware of the implications of what their investigators had uncovered, one pretended that the investigation should end if IRS workers couldn’t say the president had personally called and told them to harass his foes, and one seemed to be holding a filibuster on Pakistan.
Still, what landed was a bombshell. And Democrats know it. Which is why they are so desperate to make the investigation go away. They know, as Republicans do, that the chief counsel of the IRS is one of only two Obama political appointees in the entire agency.
To quickly review why the new information, which came most succinctly in a nine-page congressional letter to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel, is big news:
Getty ImagesIRS Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division revenue agent Elizabeth Hofacre, left, and retired IRS tax law specialist Carter Hull testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
When the scandal broke two months ago, in May, IRS leadership in Washington claimed the harassment of tea-party and other conservative groups requesting tax-exempt status was confined to the Cincinnati office, where a few rogue workers bungled the application process. Lois Lerner, then the head of the exempt organizations unit in Washington, said “line people in Cincinnati” did work that was “not so fine.” They asked questions that “weren’t really necessary,” she claimed, and operated without “the appropriate level of sensitivity.” But the targeting was “not intentional.” Ousted acting commissioner Steven Miller also put it off on “people in Cincinnati.” They provided “horrible customer service.”
House investigators soon talked to workers in the Cincinnati office, who said everything they did came from Washington. Elizabeth Hofacre, in charge of processing tea-party applications in Cincinnati, told investigators that her work was overseen and directed by a lawyer in the IRS Washington office named Carter Hull.
Now comes Mr. Hull’s testimony. And like Ms. Hofacre, he pointed his finger upward. Mr. Hull—a 48-year IRS veteran and an expert on tax exemption law—told investigators that tea-party applications under his review were sent upstairs within the Washington office, at the direction of Lois Lerner.
In April 2010, Hull was assigned to scrutinize certain tea-party applications. He requested more information from the groups. After he received responses, he felt he knew enough to determine whether the applications should be approved or denied.
But his recommendations were not carried out.
Michael Seto, head of Mr. Hull’s unit, also spoke to investigators. He told them Lois Lerner made an unusual decision: Tea-party applications would undergo additional scrutiny—a multilayered review.
Mr. Hull told House investigators that at some point in the winter of 2010-11, Ms. Lerner’s senior adviser, whose name is withheld in the publicly released partial interview transcript, told him the applications would require further review:
Q: “Did [the senior adviser to Ms. Lerner] indicate to you whether she agreed with your recommendations?”
A: “She did not say whether she agreed or not. She said it should go to chief counsel.”
Q: “The IRS chief counsel?”
A: “The IRS chief counsel.”
The IRS chief counsel is named William Wilkins. And again, he is one of only two Obama political appointees in the IRS.
What was the chief counsel’s office looking for? The letter to Mr. Werfel says Mr. Hull’s supervisor, Ronald Shoemaker, provided insight: The counsel’s office wanted, in the words of the congressional committees, “information about the applicants’ political activities leading up to the 2010 election.” Mr. Shoemaker told investigators he didn’t find that kind of question unreasonable, but he found the counsel’s office to be “not very forthcoming”: “We discussed it to some extent and they indicated that they wanted more development of possible political activity or political intervention right before the election period.”
It’s almost as if—my words—the conservative organizations in question were, during two major election cycles, deliberately held in a holding pattern.
So: What the IRS originally claimed was a rogue operation now reaches up not only to the Washington office, but into the office of the IRS chief counsel himself.
At the generally lacking House Oversight Committee Hearings on Thursday, some big things still got said.
Ms. Hofacre of the Cincinnati office testified that when she was given tea-party applications, she had to kick them upstairs. When she was given non-tea-party applications, they were sent on for normal treatment. Was she told to send liberal or progressive groups for special scrutiny? No, she did not scrutinize the applications of liberal or progressive groups. “I would send those to general inventory.” Who got extra scrutiny? “They were all tea-party and patriot cases.” She became “very frustrated” by the “micromanagement” from Washington. “It was like working in lost luggage.” She applied to be transferred.
For his part, Mr. Hull backed up what he’d told House investigators. He described what was, essentially, a big, lengthy runaround in the Washington office in which no one was clear as to their reasons but everything was delayed. The multitiered scrutiny of the targeted groups was, he said, “unusual.”
It was Maryland’s Rep. Elijah Cummings, the panel’s ranking Democrat, who, absurdly, asked Ms. Hofacre if the White House called the Cincinnati office to tell them what to do and whether she has knowledge of the president of the United States digging through the tax returns of citizens. Ms. Hofacre looked surprised. No, she replied.
It wasn’t hard to imagine her thought bubble: Do congressmen think presidents call people like me and say, “Don’t forget to harass my enemies”? Are congressmen that stupid?
Mr. Cummings is not, and his seeming desperation is telling. Recent congressional information leads to Washington—and now to very high up at the IRS. Meaning this is the point at which a scandal goes nowhere or, maybe, everywhere.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, finally woke the proceedings up with what he called “the evolution of the defense” since the scandal began. First, Ms. Lerner planted a question at a conference. Then she said the Cincinnati office did it—a narrative that was advanced by the president’s spokesman, Jay Carney. Then came the suggestion the IRS was too badly managed to pull off a sophisticated conspiracy. Then the charge that liberal groups were targeted too—”we did it against both ends of the political spectrum.” When the inspector general of the IRS said no, it was conservative groups that were targeted, he came under attack. Now the defense is that the White House wasn’t involved, so case closed.
This is one Republican who is right about evolution.
Those trying to get to the bottom of the scandal have to dig in, pay attention. The administration’s defenders, and their friends in the press, have made some progress in confusing the issue through misdirection and misstatement.
This is the moment things go forward or stall. Republicans need to find out how high the scandal went and why, exactly, it went there. To do that they’ll have to up their game.