May 21, 2013

Former IRS commissioner heads to Hill amid scandal

Alan Fram and Stephen Ohlemacher / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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In this Aug. 2, 2012, photo, then-Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman testifies on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers want to know why Shulman didn't tell Congress that agents had been singling out conservative political groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status – even after he was briefed.

AP

The two senators said the IRS had not been forthcoming about the issue in the past.

"Targeting applicants for tax-exempt status using political labels threatens to undermine the public's trust in the IRS," Baucus and Hatch wrote. "Lack of candor in advising the Senate of this practice is equally troubling."

For more than a year, from 2011 through the 2012 election, members of Congress repeatedly asked Shulman about complaints from tea party groups that they were being harassed by the IRS.

Shulman's responses, usually relayed by a deputy, did not acknowledge that agents had ever targeted tea party groups for special scrutiny. At a congressional hearing March 22, 2012, Shulman was adamant in his denials.

"There's absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people" who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman said at the House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing.

The IRS has said Shulman did not know about the targeting at the time of the hearing.

The agency's inspector general says he told Shulman on May 30, 2012, that his office was auditing the way applications for tax-exempt status were being handled, in part because of complaints from conservative groups. However, the inspector general, J. Russell George, said he did not reveal the results of his investigation.

George was also testifying at Tuesday's hearing. So was Steven Miller, who took over as acting commissioner in November, when Shulman's term expired. Last week, Obama forced Miller to resign.

George issued a report last week blaming ineffective management for allowing agents to inappropriately target conservative groups for more than 18 months during the 2010 and 2012 elections.

The agents were trying to determine whether the groups were engaged in political activity. Certain tax-exempt groups are allowed to engage in politics, but politics cannot be their primary mission. It is up to the IRS to make the determination, so agents are supposed to look for clues when reviewing applications for tax-exempt status.

In March 2010, agents starting singling out groups with "Tea Party" or "Patriots" on their applications. By August 2010, it was part of the written criteria for identifying groups that required more scrutiny, according to George's report.

Agents did not flag similar progressive or liberal labels, though some liberal groups received additional scrutiny because their applications were singled out for other reasons, the report said.

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