The Corner

‘Lookout List’ Not Much Broader Than Originally Thought, Contrary to Reports

Acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel on Monday told reporters that the now-infamous “Be On The Lookout” list was far broader than was originally disclosed in the Treasury Department inspector general’s report. Reports from outlets including the Associated Press, which I cited in my original report, and now Bloomberg News, confirmed Werfel’s account, indicating that various versions of the list not only included terms like “tea party,” but also “progressive,” “Occupy,” and “Israel.” 

A November 2010 version of the list obtained by National Review Online, however, suggests that while the list did contain the word “progressive,” screeners were in fact instructed to treat “progressive” groups differently from “tea party” groups. Whereas screeners were merely alerted that a designation of 501(c)(3) status “may not be appropriate” for applications containing the word ”progressive” – 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from conducting any political activities – they were told to send those of tea-party groups off IRS higher-ups for further scrutiny. 

That means the applications of progressive groups could be approved on the spot by line agents, while those of tea-party groups could not. Furthermore, the November 2010 list noted that tea-party cases were “currently being coordinated with EOT,” which stands for Exempt Organizations Technical, a group of tax lawyers in Washington, D.C. Those of progressive groups were not. 

The AP reported earlier on Monday that “Terms including ‘Israel,’ ’Progressive’ and ‘Occupy’ were used by agency workers to help pick groups for closer examination.” That appears to be misleading, as there is no indication from the list examined by NRO that progressive groups were singled out for heightened scrutiny in a manner similar to tea-party groups. Cases involving healthcare legislation, however, were. “New applications are subject to secondary screening in Group 7821,” the list notes.

Also sent along for more further examination were applications involving ”disputed territories in the Middle East,” in particular, those that advocated a “one sided point of view,” which perhaps explains the testimony of Cincinnati screener Gary Muthert, who told commitee investigators that the applications of pro-Israel groups went to an antiterrorism unit within the agency. 

Based on the lookout list examined by NRO, however, it is inaccurate to say that progressive and liberal groups were subjected to the same or similar scrutiny as tea-party groups, or even that a surprisingly broad array of criteria was applied to screen applications for tax exemption.  

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