Dems: IRS screened for ACORN successors, progressive groups

House Democrats said Tuesday that the IRS closely scrutinized potential successors to ACORN and other Democratic groups — evidence they say proves that the agency’s treatment of Tea Party groups was not politically motivated.

Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) released new IRS training materials on Tuesday that listed progressive and Tea Party groups as potentially political organizations seeking tax-exempt status.

Cummings and Levin are also circulating internal agency watch lists that told staffers to be on the lookout for successor groups to ACORN, the now-shuttered anti-poverty group that came under sharp criticism from Republicans and conservative groups.

“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,” Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement. “It is time for House Republicans to stop trying to score political points and start to focus on reforming the IRS.” 

“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,” added Levin, the ranking Democrat at House Ways and Means.

“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," Levin said.

The new Democratic release comes more than three months after the IRS first apologized for targeting Tea Party groups and as Democrats and Republicans continue to quarrel over how to investigate the agency’s treatment of tax-exempt applicants.

Top GOP lawmakers have long stressed that Tea Party groups were more likely to receive invasive questioning from the IRS, to face longer delays on their tax-exempt applications and to eventually get their application rejected.

The new information released by Democrats, Republicans say, doesn’t change those facts.

“Not only were conservative groups targeted by the IRS, but they received much higher scrutiny than progressives,” said Sarah Swinehart, a spokeswoman for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

“How many times have Congressional Democrats now tried to declare the IRS targeting investigation over?” asked Frederick Hill, a spokesman for House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)

Cummings and Levin released the new documents after a debate between the IRS and Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration over whether confidentiality laws would permit the agency to release the information. Democrats have insisted that Russell George, the tax administration inspector general, also withheld key information from his report.

ACORN, formally known as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, closed its doors several years ago after a hidden camera caught employees giving advice on how to open a brothel.

The new information from Cummings and Levin also shows that IRS officials were told to keep their eyes open for so-called Emerge groups, organizations that encourage and train Democratic women to seek office. The IRS eventually denied tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status to Emerge America.

"The fact that Emerge was initially approved for tax exempt status, but had it revoked after its improper behavior came to light, underscores how much more stringent the IRS was with Tea Party applicants," Hill said.