Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was forced to resign Wednesday afternoon. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew requested and received Miller’s resignation in the wake of last Friday’s bombshell admission by IRS Exempt Organizations (EO) Director Lois Lerner that the IRS had targeted applications for tax-exemption made by groups with conservative-sounding names. We note, however, that Miller only began his tenure in November of 2012 and the practices in question are said to have started in 2010. A report on the investigation by the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration (TGITA), which was released Tuesday afternoon, cited numerous problems with IRS processes and actions of IRS personnel.
In a statement at the White House, President Obama said, “It’s inexcusable and Americans are right to be angry about it and I am angry about it.…I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but particularly the IRS given the power that it has and the reach that it has in all of our lives.”
Calls for Miller’s resignation had been building among lawmakers, including at least one Democratic senator. As NPQ previously reported, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called for the acting IRS Commissioner’s ouster. Now, Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sander Levin (D-MI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have added their names to the list.
CNN reports that congressional sources say IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller had identified two “rogue” workers at the IRS as being responsible for the targeting of conservative groups. In an unfortunate quote Native Americans and others may find racist, Miller identifies the rogue employees as being “off the reservation.” Miller is reported to have said today that the two employees have been disciplined. However, this is a different story than the one presented by IRS Exempt Organizations (EO) Director Lois Lerner last Friday.
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Politico reports that conservative groups singled out for special scrutiny by the IRS were sent questionnaires asking for detailed information on donor rolls, Facebook posts, web site printouts, and even lists of books the organizations’ organizers were reading.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) asks, “Who’s going to jail over this scandal?” We may have to wait for the results of the FBI investigation ordered yesterday by Attorney General Eric Holder, but Boehner’s blunt public statement puts pressure on all involved to more quickly. In the meantime, Congressional hearings continue to be announced. In addition to the House Ways and Means hearings scheduled for Friday, May 17, Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, has announced that his committee will hold hearings next Wednesday, May 22. Meanwhile, in the Senate, The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday, May 21, with witness list yet to be determined.
Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), announced on Monday that they would delay scheduled June hearings on the activities of 501(c)4 organizations to allow the committee to add the issues related to IRS targeting of 501(c)4 applications to the scope of their inquiry. It is noteworthy that the focus of the Senate PSI hearings had originally been to challenge the appropriateness of political groups receiving 501(c)4 exempt recognition. The change in focus is a delay in advancing the committee’s original agenda to investigate, with an eye toward limiting, the political activities of such nonprofits. US News & World Report sees hypocrisy in first calling for hearings to limit access to 501(c)4 status based on political activity, and now demanding hearings and decrying the apparent IRS practice. Quoting a New York Times article written in 2010, “Such a review [by the Senate Finance Committee in 2010] threatens to ‘chill the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights,’ wrote two Republican senators, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Jon Kyl of Arizona, in a letter sent to the I.R.S. on Wednesday.…Democrats dismissed the Republicans’ complaints as groundless.”
The list of organizations and individuals possibly targeted by the IRS on political grounds is growing. Franklin Graham, Christian evangelist and son of the Rev. Billy Graham, claims that their organization was targeted for investigation of political activity in 2010. In a letter to President Obama, Franklin Graham says that The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s urging of voters to back “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel” was the basis for wasteful audits attempting to intimidate the organization. The Washington Post recounts the story of a gay rights organization seeking tax-exempt recognition in the 1990s encountering IRS resistance because the organization might be seen as “tending to encourage or facilitate homosexual practice and propensities by the young and impressionable.” The IRS, in a letter to the group, asked it to “describe in detail the procedures and safeguards in place to assure that counselors and participants do not encourage or facilitate homosexual practices or encourage the development of homosexual attitudes and propensities by minor individuals attending your programs.”—Michael Wyland