Internal Revenue Service officials targeted organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on “guilt by association,” according to documents uncovered by a conservative watchdog group and released Wednesday.
Judicial Watch obtained the IRS documents through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Those documents included handwritten notes of a meeting in 2011 pointing to concerns by Holly Paz, who was the tax agency’s director of Office of Rulings and Agreements.
“Q’s were not activity based, but guilt by association questions — like q’s asking party affiliations.”
“Holly — Cinci paralyzed by letting any issue go unaddressed,” read one notation, from an unidentified source, referring to the IRS office in Cincinnati. “They think they know what the org is really doing, rather than looking at actual activities. Q’s were not activity based, but guilt by association questions — like q’s asking party affiliations.”
An IRS spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
Becky Gerritson, president of the Wetumpka Tea Party in Alabama, said the latest revelations come as no surprise since she experienced the issue firsthand. She said the IRS submitted more than 80 questions, some of which asked about the group’s donors, thought-leaders, and whether any members were running for public office.
“What should have taken three months took almost two years,” she said. “Many of these questions had nothing to do with the activities of our organization.”
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Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the newly obtained documents offer more evidence that the IRS subjected conservative organizations to extra scrutiny in reviewing applications for tax-exempt status.
“This further confirms the IRS knew about abuses years before they were exposed,” he said in a prepared statement. “President Trump needs to reopen the criminal investigation of the IRS as soon as he is sworn into office.”
Gerritson agreed. She said she worries that a future administration might use the IRS practices as a precedent.
“This must be stopped,” she said.
The scandal eventually led to the resignation of Lois Lerner as director of the Exempt Organizations Unit, and eventually calls for the impeachment of the current IRS commissioner, John Koskinen, based on allegations that he obstructed a congressional inquiry. He skipped a hearing in the House of Representatives in May.
The handwritten notes suggest political motivations controlled how the IRS approached its work:
“They see approval of something that will turn out to be very bad org — terrified of that — that’s why they personally will need to have power to say yes. Agents felt if they could ask enough questions, they will find a problem. Agents were jumping to negative conclusions and assumptions — particularly where relationship with political groups or affiliations.”
The Treasury Department Office of the Inspector General issued a report in May 2013 indicating that IRS officials singled out groups with words like “patriot” and “Tea Party” in their names, and other conservative-sounding titles. The report stated that the IRS began using the inappropriate criteria in early 2010, about a year after Barack Obama became president.
According to the report, those reviews continued for more than 18 months and “delayed processing of targeted groups’ applications” preparing for the 2012 presidential election.