Between 2010 and 2012, 298 applications to the IRS for 501(c)(4) status were collected and put on hold. Of these applications, 83% were from conservative groups and 100% of these groups were audited. These groups were flagged for additional scrutiny based on their names and the content of their speech. Words such as “Tea Party” or “Patriots” triggered additional IRS scrutiny. Groups discussing taxes, smaller government, the debt and the Constitution also received additional IRS scrutiny, which included invasive questions and resulted in extreme delays in securing their status.
In May 2013, the director of the Office of Exempt Organizations, Lois Lerner, revealed in a staged Q&A that the IRS had used “inappropriate criteria” to target certain groups, blaming the practice on low-level employees at the office in Cincinnati. This has since been proven to be a lie; the practice was much more elaborate and pervasive.
The issue has become the subject of Congressional investigations to determine who was orchestrating the targeting and what other government agencies participated or complied with the practice. The Congress has focused specifically on Lois Lerner and her role in the targeting. Although Lerner has plead the Fifth in her Congressional hearings, the Congress subpoenaed her communications, including emails which may have been sent to any number of government agencies including the Department of Justice, the Federal Election Commission and even the White House. But it has recently been revealed that Lerner’s communications cannot be sent to Congress because her computer crashed in 2011. When asked to provide the damaged hard drive in an effort to recover the material, it was then revealed that Lerner’s hard drive was destroyed. Coincidentally, six other key IRS officials also had computer crashes which led to the loss of their information during the relevant time period.
Unfortunately, the IRS targeting of these groups based on their content has devolved into a right versus left, conservative versus liberal battle. But the government targeting of any group based on the content of their speech should be an outrage for all Americans, regardless of party. Liberals who stand for the integrity of our civil rights should be equally as outraged as the conservatives who profess an appreciation for our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. But this scandal has highlighted our lack of objectivity in this nation, putting political parties above the truth and our shared values as Americans.
It also does not help that our Attorney General has shown little interest in pursuing this issue and holding anyone accountable. We rely on the Department of Justice to enforce the laws, but there appears to be collusion between different parts of the Executive Branch – the White House, the Department of Justice, the IRS – to stonewall Congress’ investigation and delay any possible justice.
What will it take for the American people to take to the streets and protest this kind of behavior by our government? The unbridled use of force by our government because of the content of our speech, coupled with the failure to enforce its own laws, should concern and outrage every American.
I.R.S. Head and Lawmakers Clash Over Missing Email (New York Times)
The IRS Loses Lerner's Emails (WSJ)
Lawmakers: IRS lost more emails in tea party probe
GOP pushes for answers on missing IRS emails
Timeline Of IRS Tax Exempt Organization Scandal