Monday, May 13, 2013

IRS Apologizes For Targeting Tax-Exempt Applications By Conservative Groups

This has been a difficult few weeks for the IRS.

In March Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), chairman of the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee chastised the agency upon discovering a series of IRS training videos that parodied “Star Trek” and “Gilligan’s Island.” The videos cost the IRS approximately $60,000. The IRS initially refused to make the videos public. They later did after mounting criticism.

In April the American Civil Liberties Union released documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showing that the IRS criminal tax division believed the agency could access e-mails and text messages without obtaining a warrant. Rep. Charles Boustany demanded the IRS present its policies for when search warrants are needed to review private e-mails and communications.

Last week the IRS announced that it was changing its policy to require search warrants both for criminal and civil tax proceedings.

Last week we found out that an IRS employee at the Covington campus had been charged with destroying at least 800 fiduciary income tax returns. “Fiduciary” is a fancy term for a trust, and the term includes an estate which receives income and has to pay income tax. The employee – Brady James – is only 30 years old, and he could be facing a maximum prison term of 20 years.

One has to wonder what Brady James was thinking.

Last Friday an IRS employee – Lois Lerner, head of the IRS tax-exempt division – responded to a question concerning tax-exempt applications by conservative groups at an American Bar Association conference. A firestorm ignited, and the IRS quickly scheduled a media conference call for the same day.

She apologized for “inappropriate” targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election. IRS employees in Cincinnati singled out approximately 75 organizations using “patriot” or “tea party” in their name. The IRS was trying to get ahead of an AP news report, as well as an expected report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

Why Cincinnati? The IRS breaks up its work functions into units, and these units are located throughout the country. The unit under discussion handles the review of applications for tax-exempt status, and that unit is located in Cincinnati.

The number of organizations filing for tax-exempt status has more than doubled since 2010. To handle the volume, the IRS centralized its review of the applications in Cincinnati. Makes sense, as it allows the development of expertise within the unit and consistency in the process.

Until it goes wrong. Terribly wrong.

The IRS for example responded to the Richmond (VA) Tea Party’s application by requiring additional documentation on 17 different matters. When it did so, the IRS responded by requiring documentation on 53 additional matters. Oh, and the Richmond Tea Party had two weeks to respond.

 “We made some mistakes,” said Lois Lerner. “Some people didn’t use good judgment. For that we are apologetic.”

Heartfelt apology, isn’t it?

Lerner went on to explain that low-level employees initiated the IRS practice. It was not motivated by bias, she said.

COMMENT: Who would even think of bias? Do not pay attention to the fact that groups with words like “progressive” in their name did not receive the same scrutiny.

"It's the line people that did it without talking to managers," Lerner continued. "They're IRS workers, they're revenue agents."

COMMENT: Are there no supervisors in Cincinnati? She makes it sound like her revenue agents are doing whatever they want, without review and apparently without accountability.  I am throwing the B.S. flag on Ms. Lerner.

Lerner told the AP that no high-level IRS officials knew about the practice.

COMMENT: This means some non high-level will take the fall, of course. Hey, there are perks to being a high-level.

Friday was not Lerner’s best moment. At one point she said, "I'm not good at math." Granted, she is an attorney and not an accountant, but still.  That is not a comforting comment from an IRS high-level.

Good grief.

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