Report: IRS leaked confidential documents to investigative media

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) leaked confidential materials submitted by some conservative groups to investigative journalists at ProPublica, the group reported on Tuesday.

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Last year, ProPublica, an investigative journalism outlet, was researching “how dozens of social-welfare nonprofits had misled the IRS about their political activity on their applications and tax returns.”

As part of the investigation, “ProPublica regularly requested applications from the IRS’s Cincinnati office, which is responsible for reviewing applications from nonprofits.” According to the report, the same IRS office in Cincinnati that has admitted to targeting conservative groups provided confidential documents submitted by some of those nonprofit organizations to ProPublica.

“In response to a request for the applications for 67 different nonprofits last November, the Cincinnati office of the IRS sent ProPublica applications or documentation for 31 groups,” ProPublica reports. “Nine of those applications had not yet been approved—meaning they were not supposed to be made public. (We made six of those public, after redacting their financial information, deeming that they were newsworthy.)”

Among the applications sent to ProPublica was one for Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-backed group and one of the biggest spending conservative groups in the 2012 election cycle. Applications are supposed to remain confidential until a group’s status has been determined.

ProPublica says it followed up with the IRS at the time to find out why it had been provided the confidential materials. The IRS responded by saying it would be illegal for ProPublica to publish the documents.

ProPublica published the materials but redacted some financial information.

The ProPublica report expands the scope of what has become a political firestorm in Washington. The IRS apologized last Friday for targeting conservative groups, including those with the words “Tea Party” and “patriot” in their names, for extra scrutiny when determining whether they were eligible for tax-exempt status.

The IRS has blamed low-level employees at the Cincinnati office, saying they were looking for a way to streamline the process in the wake of a flood of applications following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Lawmakers from both parties have vowed to investigate the matter, which President Obama on Monday called “outrageous.”