New Documents Highlight IRS Scrutiny of Progressive Groups

Aug 20, 2013

WASHINGTON – Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) today released new information from the IRS that provides further evidence that progressive groups were singled out for scrutiny in the same manner as conservative groups. The documents include an IRS training presentation that instructs IRS employees to screen tax-exemption applications for “Emerge” organizations alongside “progressive” and “tea party” organizations. The term “emerge” was redacted in the presentation when it was originally released by the IRS in early July. Three organizations tied to the national Emerge America organization – Emerge Nevada, Emerge Maine and Emerge Massachusetts – were all denied 501 (c)(4) status in 2011, according to a New York Times report. The new documents also include more unredacted information on the “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) lists showing that screeners were instructed to give heightened scrutiny to “ACORN successor” organizations. The IRS has since eliminated the use of the BOLO lists.

Ranking Member Levin and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings have long requested that the IRS and TIGTA disclose the documents released today publicly.

Rep. Levin: “Once again it is clear that the Inspector General's report left out critical information that skewed the audit's findings and set the stage for Republicans to make completely baseless accusations in an effort to tarnish the White House.  These new documents make it clear the IRS scrutiny of the political activity of 501(c)(4) organizations covered a broad spectrum of political ideology and was not politically motivated.  Republicans should stop trying to twist the facts to fit a faulty "enemies list" narrative and instead join in the effort to fix the mismanagement problems at the IRS tax-exempt division as I have called for since day one.”

Rep. Cummings: “This new information should put a nail in the coffin of the Republican claims that the IRS's actions were politically motivated or were targeted at only one side of the political spectrum.  It is time for House Republicans to stop trying to score political points and start to focus on reforming the IRS.”

NEW DOCUMENTS

The documents released today show that the IRS instructed its screeners to single out for heightened scrutiny “Emerge” organizations and "ACORN successors.”  These documents include updated IRS screening workshop materials that list "Emerge" alongside "Patriots" and "9/12" organizations, a presentation that the IRS released in early July but until now redacted the term “Emerge.”  The documents also include updated BOLO lists and IRS training materials instructing screeners to watch for ACORN successors. 

Documents

In September 2009, TIGTA, at the request of OGR Chairman Issa, agreed to investigate whether ACORN or its affiliates engaged in potential political activities.

Background

The IRS Inspector General’s (TIGTA) audit report issued May 2013 stated that Tea Party groups were "targeted" by the IRS for heightened scrutiny for potential political activities, but failed to mention that progressive groups were also screened for additional scrutiny based on similarly inappropriate criteria and also suffered from significant delays.   In testimony before Congress, the Inspector General failed to disclose that the term “progressives” was included on the IRS “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) lists used to screen tax-exemption applications even though he knew the term was on there at the time he testified. 

In fact, a 2010 PowerPoint presentation which used images of a donkey and an elephant to instruct IRS screeners to look for the term “progressive” alongside “tea party” when reviewing tax-exempt applications further called into question the reliability of TIGTA’s audit.  On June 26, 2013, the Inspector General stated in a letter to Ranking Member Levin that ‘we did not find any evidence that the criteria you identified labeled ‘Progressives’ were used by the IRS to select potential political cases during the 2010 to 2012 timeframe we audited.’  The information in this letter was subsequently amended by the Inspector General after it was brought to his attention that the first letter contained inaccurate statements. On July 17, 2013, Ranking Member Levin urged the Inspector General to stop blocking the release of the common word used by a group of Democratic-leaning organizations that were treated like the Tea Party organizations and stated that it is "imperative that the Inspector General operate in a non-partisan manner and be completely forthcoming with the Congress and the American people.”

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