WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) failed to subject liberal groups seeking tax-exempt status to the same rigid scrutiny as tea-party groups and other conservative organizations, the agency’s acting chief and a Treasury Department inspector general confirmed Thursday.
Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee, Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel acknowledged publicly the existence of a “be on the lookout” list, or a BOLO list, which included the term “progressives.” Democrats have insisted this list proves the inappropriate IRS treatment of conservative groups extended to liberals.
But Werfel’s acknowledgment of a list involving “progressives” came shortly after a letter to a top Democrat from J. Russell George, the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration, was made public. In it, George made clear that liberal organizations were not subjected to the same kinds of inappropriate IRS treatment as were conservative groups.
Werfel, who told the committee he is nonpartisan, did not dispute Republican assertions that “progressive” groups got softer treatment from the IRS and said he continues to investigate “what were the circumstances that caused these inappropriate labels to occur.”
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“We did not find evidence that the criteria you identified, labeled ‘Progressives,’ were used by the IRS to select potential political cases during the 2010 to 2012 time frame we audited,” George wrote to Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. “The ‘Progressives’ criteria appeared on a section of the ‘Be On the Look Out’ (BOLO) spreadsheet labeled ‘Historical,’ and, unlike other BOLO entries, did not include instructions on how to refer cases that met the criteria.”
George added that while “we have multiple sources of information corroborating the use of tea party and other related criteria we described in our report … we found no indication in any of these other materials that ‘Progressives’ was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention.”
Of 298 IRS cases reviewed by George involving potentially political decisions, 14 included the term “progress” or “progressive,” the letter said, and only a handful received a deeper IRS review. That compares to 100 percent of the groups with “tea party” in the title.
George’s letter appeared to shoot down Democratic claims that George had deliberately excluded information from an earlier audit of the IRS that would have shown that liberals, too, had been subjected to inappropriate treatment. George also noted in the letter that he provided information about the additional lists to House and Senate committees June 7.
Supposedly, Thursday’s hearing was held to question Werfel, on the job for about a month, about his 30-day report to update his investigation. The report outlined changes made to rectify inadequate controls and to remove senior leaders from their posts.
But his report provided scant information about how the agency came to target conservative groups, and how some anti-abortion groups appeared to have approval of their applications for tax-exempt status linked to a pledge to refrain from picketing Planned Parenthood offices.