IG: ‘Progressive’ Groups Not Targeted By IRS

by Eliana Johnson

Liberal and progressive groups were not the subject of undue scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service, according to Treasury Department inspector general J. Russell George.

In a letter sent Wednesday responding to claims by House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sander Levin charging that the IG is remiss for failing to note in his May report that the IRS discriminated against progressive groups as well as tea-party groups, George said his office simply ”did not find 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.” 

In fact, the watchdog who performed the audit indicating that tea-party groups were inappropriately targeted performed additional research at Levin’s behest, and found that six of 298 applications identified by the IRS as political cases that the words “progress” or “progressive” were referred to agency higher ups for review, while 14 were not. While 100 percent of tea party cases received additional scrutiny, just 30 percent of the progressive organizations did.

Oversight Commitee chairman Darrell Issa responded to George’s letter by blasting his Democratic colleagues, saying in a statement that they should “stop trying to derail the investigation by defending IRS officials with distorted claims equating the systematic scrutiny of Tea Party groups with the more routine screening progressive groups received.”

Wednesday’s letter appears to be a reversal for the inspector general, whose spokesman told repoters on Monday that his audit had only examined the criteria applied to conservative groups because Issa had directed them “to narrowly focus on tea-party organizations.” George’s letter contradicts that claim, as does an e-mail sent from Oversight Commitee staff to IRS officials, obtained by National Review Online, that characterizes the nature of the committee’s inquiry. The February 2012 e-mail says the committee ”would like to understand why this [tax-exempt application process] should take so long and wants to know more, in general, about the determination process.” 

George’s letter is sure to fuel the battle between GOP committee chairmen Darrell Issa and Dave Camp, who are leading the House’s investigation of the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, and their Democratic colleagues. Over cries from his colleagues across the aisle that, with Republicans failing to unearth any political motivation for the targeting or any connection to the Obama White House, continuing the investigation is futile, Issa called on them to stop looking “for every excuse to just say the case is solved and Congress should move on.”