The conservative think tank, Judicial Watch, has obtained and released nearly 700 pages of Obama IRS Scandal documents that show officials used “inappropriate political labels” to screen applications from conservative tax-exempt organizations.
The documents were made available following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch in 2015.
The FOIA request was made following a scandal in 2013, that revealed the US Internal Revenue Service had selected political groups applying for tax-exempt status for intensive scrutiny based on their names or political themes. The revelation led to wide condemnation of the agency and prompted several investigation, including an FBI order by the US Attorney General Eric Holder.
Initial reports described the selection as nearly exclusively targeting conservative groups with terms such as “Tea Party” in their names but later it was found that some liberal groups were also selected for additional review.
In January 2014, the FBI told Fox News that its investigation had found no evidence so far warranting the filing of federal criminal charges in connection with the controversy, as it had not found any evidence of “enemy hunting”, and that the investigation continued. On October 23, 2015, the Justice Department declared that no criminal charges would be filed.
Of the 695 pages of documents released by the IRS, 61 percent were withheld in their entirety. Among the new materials is a June 20, 2013 memo from Karen Schiller, then acting-director suspending the use of the controversial Be on the Lookout (BOLO) and Touch and Go (TAG) lists that was used for identifying terms conservative and liberal groups.
Another document is an August 8, 2013 memo, where Schiller admits the IRS used political labels in targeting groups for special scrutiny and possible audit and directing the organization in the future to screen organization based only on their activities “not words” or “labels of any kind.”
Included in the documents is a “Dear [Applicant]” letter that offers applicants an “expedited process” for 501( c) (4)s in exchange for restriction on their activities.
“This optional expedited process is currently available only to applicants for 501(c)(4) status with applications pending for more than 120 days as of May 28, 2013, that indicate the organization may be involved in political campaign intervention”.
Judicial Watch had previously argued the lists used to identify conservative organizations applying for tax exempt status was used by the Obama administration in advance of the 2012 presidential election.
“No wonder the Obama IRS has been hiding these records. The new smoking-gun documents contain admissions by the Obama IRS that is inappropriately targeted conservative groups,” said Judicial Watch President, Tom Fitton. “But the records also show that the abuse continued – as the Obama IRS tried to force conservative applications to give up their First Amendment rights in order to finally get their applications granted.”
Between 2010 and 2012, the number of applications the IRS received each year seeking 501(c)(4) certification doubled. During this period, budget cuts and personnel cuts reduced the IRS’s ability to adequately perform its core duties.
When the Obama administration requested in 2011 that Congress increase the IRS’s $12.1 billion budget by $1 billion to allow the agency to hire 5,100 additional agents, Congress instead reduced the IRS budget to $11.8 billion, and the IRS offered buyouts to 5,400 of its 95,000 employees.