IRS scandal

May 10, 2015; The Hill

On Friday, May 10, 2013, Lois Lerner told a group of attorneys in Washington, D.C. that the long-rumored IRS targeting of conservative groups’ applications for tax exemption did, indeed, take place. Shortly afterward, an audit report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) both documented the extent of the targeting and refuted Lerner’s initial assertion that the targeting was the result of “rogue employees” at the IRS office in Cincinnati, Ohio. NPQ published its own analysis of the TIGTA audit report at the time of its release.

Two years later, there are at least six independent government investigations of what has become known as the “IRS scandal,” and the investigations continue. NPQ has published more than 30 articles on various aspects of the IRS scandal since Lerner’s acknowledgement of the issue. (NPQ’s Rick Cohen was in the room with Lerner when the story broke.)

Republican congressional sources criticize the IRS and the Obama administration for obstructing the various investigations and being slow to produce evidence, including Lerner emails found by Treasury investigators a year after the IRS claimed they were unrecoverable. Democratic congressional sources and President Obama claim that there is no scandal, no evidence of political motivation for the IRS actions. They see the various investigations as partisan witch-hunts. Meanwhile, independent advocacy groups like Judicial Watch and Cause of Action file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and uncover Lerner e-mails and related documents from the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department that were not produced by the IRS.

One of the key committees investigating the IRS scandal has been the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In December 2014, the Republican staff issued a 226-page report on its IRS scandal investigation to date. The report was intended to act as a picking-up point for the Committee after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) gave up the chairmanship in January 2015. Those wishing to understand the details and see the supporting e-mails and testimony would do well to read the report.

What’s next? When the Republicans took the majority in the Senate this year, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) became the chair of the Senate Finance Committee and has personally taken the lead on the IRS scandal investigation in the Senate. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has become the chair of the House Oversight Committee, which is looking at many issues, including multiple problems involving the U.S. Secret Service. Meanwhile, FOIA requests are still being filed by interest groups, objected to by agencies, and appealed through the courts. When those of the recovered Lerner emails that remain are analyzed, we may see more congressional hearings on the IRS scandal.

Finally, some of the conservative groups targeted by the IRS are having preliminary success in preparing a class action to sue the IRS.—Michael Wyland