The IRS’s internal auditor distorted the facts surrounding the IRS tea party targeting scandal, leaving Americans with the impression that the tax agency went after conservative groups without also targeting liberal groups, the Senate’s top investigative panel said Friday.
Investigators said the IRS did mishandle applications for tax exempt status, including subjecting groups to years-long delays and “poorly coordinated reviews.” But the report, written by Democrats who control the chamber, concluded that the IRS’s “mismanagement” affected both liberal and conservative groups, clearing the agency of accusations of politically motivated behavior.
“The subcommittee found no evidence that political bias influences the decisions made by IRS personnel,” the report concluded. “A review of nearly 800,000 pages of documents and nearly two dozen interviews produced no evidence of political bias influencing IRS decisionmaking about how to process [nonprofit] applications filed by conservative organizations, and no evidence that the IRS singled out conservative groups for harsher treatment than other groups.”
The investigators said part of the proof was that “key IRS personnel” were registered Republicans or viewed themselves ideologically as aligned with the tea party.
Investigators also said the IRS must write new rules to push nonprofit groups out of political activities.
That recommendation is not surprising. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which wrote the report, has long questioned nonprofit groups’ engagement in politics.
Indeed, Republicans say Mr. Levin himself helped spark the targeting by requesting several years ago that the the Obama administration look into nonprofit groups’ political activities.
In a stinging dissent, Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican, said that almost all of the special scrutiny of nonprofit applications done by the IRS was aimed at conservative groups, and the fact that “a scant few” liberal groups were also swept up does not mean there was no bias.
More than 80 percent of the 298 groups found to be targeted for intrusive screening and delays were right-of-center. Of the remaining groups, only 10 percent were left-leaning, and the remaining groups’ political leanings were undetermined.
Conservative groups were also asked more than three times the number of questions the liberal groups were asked, and while liberal groups were all approved by the IRS, conservative groups were not.
“The IRS screening resulted in a clearly disparate impact on conservative group applications,” the McCain dissent said.
Investigators spent more than a year looking into the targeting, which became public in May 2013.
But the GOP’s dissent said Democrats’ report didn’t take into account recent emails gleaned from former IRS employee Lois G. Lerner’s accounts showing her disparaging conservatives.
Ms. Lerner, who as former director of the IRS Office of Exempt Organizations is a key figure in the probe, has refused to testify and some of her emails have been lost by the IRS.
Conservative groups had complained about rough treatment at the hands of the IRS for years, but agency leaders had denied that. Then the agency did an about-face, planting a question at a conference to reveal that they had been improperly scrutinizing applications. That admission only came a few days before the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration was to release a report finding that targeting did occur.
Democrats, in their report Friday, said the inspector general cut corners and failed to acknowledge that liberal groups were caught up in the special scrutiny.
They Democratic report said that if the inspector general had dug deeper, it would have found that more conservative groups were applying for nonprofit status, which would explain why more conservative groups ended up in scrutiny.
A spokeswoman for the inspector general did not have a comment on the report other than to say they were “reviewing” it.
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