Out of the blue, the Internal Revenue Service has apologized for targeting conservative groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in their titles for special treatment in applying for tax exempt nonprofit organization status. Stephen Ohlemacher of AP reports:
The Internal Revenue Service apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was "inappropriate" targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.
IRS agents singled out dozens of organizations for additional reviews because they included the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their exemption applications, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for lists of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said. (snip)
"That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That's not how we go about selecting cases for further review," Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association.
"The IRS would like to apologize for that," she added.
Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice. She did not say when they found out.
Many conservative groups complained during the election that they were being harassed by the IRS. They accused the agency of frustrating their attempts to become tax exempt by sending them lengthy, intrusive questionnaires.
Tom Maguire quips:
As to why it won't happen again, well, nobody at the top knew anything the first time, so waddya gonna do?
It was also illegal. University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit writes:
My take: The employees involved should be fired and prosecuted. The affected groups should be compensated for the additional costs they incurred in responding to this illegal harassment, and Congress should take the money out of the IRS's travel-and-entertainment budget.
More here: "Using the IRS to target political opponents is banana-republic stuff, a clear and intolerable violation of the public trust, not to mention relevant criminal statutes. This is not the sort of offense that should get these IRS workers fired from their jobs - it is the sort of offense that should get them five years in prison."
Also: Do you think ObamaCare will be administered with any more fairness?
Another hearing nightmare is going to begin for the Obama administration. Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times:
The House oversight committee will look into the IRS's admission Friday that it targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny during last year's elections - a move that committee Chairmen Darrell E. Issa and Jim Jordan said smacks of "political retaliation."
The two lawmakers said they will hold those IRS officials who were involved "responsible ... for this political retaliation."
I have to wonder if there isn't a shoe or two more to drop. Why did the IRS suddenly apologize? Could there be legal action pending? A lawsuit settlement? The statement reportedly came in response to a question at the legal conference.
The IRS has issued a formal statement that is somewhat inconsistent with Lerner's statement:
Between 2010 and 2012, the IRS saw the number of applications for section 501(c)(4) status double. As a result, local career employees in Cincinnati sought to centralize work and assign cases to designated employees in an effort to promote consistency and quality. This approach has worked in other areas. However, the IRS recognizes we should have done a better job of handling the influx of advocacy applications. While centralizing cases for consistency made sense, the way we initially centralized them did not. Mistakes were made initially, but they were in no way due to any political or partisan rationale. We fixed the situation last year and have made significant progress in moving the centralized cases through our system. To date, more than half of the cases have been approved or withdrawn. It is important to recognize that all centralized applications received the same, even-handed treatment, and the majority of cases centralized were not based on a specific name. In addition, new procedures also were implemented last year to ensure that these mistakes won't be made in the future. The IRS also stresses that our employees - all career civil servants - will continue to be guided by tax law and not partisan issues.
Kevin Williamson comments:
If this was just a procedural goof, then what exactly is Lerner apologizing for? And if this was not "due to any political or partisan rationale," then why were groups with the words "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in their names improperly flagged?
The IRS's statement and Lerner's apology do not comport. More to come.
Of that we can be sure. Remember, the IRS is the enforcement arm of Obamacare.