The IRS singled out conservative Tea Party groups for scrutiny, according to a new report released Monday by Rep. Darrell Issa and Republicans on the House Oversight Committee.
The report argues Democrats are pushing a “myth” when they say the IRS closely examined groups of all political stripes.
While organizations on both sides of the aisle were probed, the report from Issa (R-Calif.) claims that Tea Party groups received tougher scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.
Issa’s panel has spent nearly a year examining the matter. But so far, no direct evidence has emerged to prove early claims the scrutiny was directed by political players high in the Obama administration.
On Thursday, Issa’s panel is scheduled to vote on contempt charges for Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the controversy. Lerner, who first apologized for unfairly targeting Tea Party groups, has twice refused to publicly answer questions.
This latest report is aimed at undercutting Democratic claims that the IRS’s investigation into such groups was never a partisan affair. Several high-ranking Democrats have pointed to the existence of liberal groups among those examined as proof the IRS was not on a Tea Party witch hunt, but simply trying to process an influx of potentially political groups seeking tax exemptions.
But Issa’s report called those arguments “misleading,” and an attempt to distract from the underlying problem.
“Their attempt to allege bipartisan targeting is just another effort to distract from the fact that the Obama IRS systematically targeted and delayed conservative tax-exempt applicants,” the report stated.
The report claims that the first groups sent from a field office in Cincinnati to Washington for additional scrutiny were Tea Party groups, and initial criteria scooped up primarily conservative groups.
Those first three test cases came from groups called the Prescott Tea Party, the American Junto, and the Albuquerque Tea Party.
Republicans argue that the IRS broadened its criteria in the summer of 2012 only to be “cosmetically neutral,” but that the IRS still was primarily focused on conservative organizations.
Republicans point to an analysis by members on the Ways and Means Committee, which found that 83 percent of the groups that underwent further review were conservative, compared to 10 percent that were liberal. The analysis also found that 70 percent of the liberal groups ultimately were approved, compared to 45 percent of conservative ones.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, said that Issa was disregarding evidence that the IRS had tripped up groups from across the political spectrum.
“Chairman Issa has in his possession—right now—IRS documents that show definitively that both progressive and conservative groups were highlighted for scrutiny," Cummings said in a statement.
"Unfortunately, the chairman insists on cherry-picking evidence and simply disregarding documents that directly contradict his partisan narrative, instead promoting misleading claims that hurt his own credibility and that of the committee.”
Cummings previously had pointed out that IRS training materials from 2010 had told screeners to check for "progressive" and "tea party" when examining tax-exempt applications.
While Democrats have been quick to point to liberal groups that have also gotten a closer look as evidence the IRS’s actions were not motivated by politics, Republicans argued in their reports that the two are not comparable. Some left-leaning groups were listed on the “Be On the Look Out” or BOLO lists the IRS used to pull groups for a closer look, but Republicans argue they received different treatment than Tea Party organizations.
For example, the report says that successor groups to the defunct community group ACORN were examined by the IRS simply to make sure they were actually new entities, and not attempts to restart the old group under a new name. Those groups were not subject to a “sensitive case report” or referred to the IRS chief counsel’s office, as many Tea Party groups were.
Republicans contend that groups labeled “progressive” did not receive the same level of scrutiny that groups including the words “Tea Party” did. In fact, Issa’s report found that all seven groups in the IRS backlog with “progressive” in their names ultimately were approved.
“Only Tea Party groups on the BOLO list experienced systematic scrutiny and delay,” the report claims.
--Bernie Becker contributed to this report, which was updated at 3:44 p.m.