More than six months after declaring on election night that “we’ve got to fix” long lines at the polls that forced some voters to wait up to eight hours, President Obama has announced the members of his commission on election administration. The list includes a mix of business executives, public officials, and election administrators, but no dedicated voting-rights advocates. Obama had previously revealed that Washington super-lawyers Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, a Democrat and Republican respectively, would chair the panel. Obama also announced that Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Columbia Law School who has generally been skeptical of voting restrictions aimed at combating fraud, will be the commission’s senior research director. And the commission unveiled a new website,supportthevoter.gov.
National: Conservative group True the Vote sues IRS over being subject to heightened scrutiny | The Wahsington Post
True the Vote, a Houston-based voter watchdog group that arose from a tea party organization, filed suit in federal court Tuesday against the Internal Revenue Service over the agency’s processing of its request for tax-exempt status. The lawsuit, filed by the conservative ActRight Legal Foundation, asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to grant its request for tax-exempt status and award damages for what it described as unlawful conduct by the IRS. True the Vote, which was founded in June 2010, is affiliated with the King Street Patriots, a tea party group which started in December 2009. Originally called KSP/True the Vote, the group filed in July 2010 for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) charity organization. In August 2011, the group changed its name to True the Vote Inc.; King Street Patriots has separately been seeking the 501(c)(4) status from the IRS. True the Vote has come under fire for intimidating African-American and other minority voters at the polls.
The allegations had all the makings of a perfect election-year scandal that might threaten President Obama’s chances for a second term and re-energize a listless Tea Party movement: an activist president, running an overbearing government, treating conservative groups unfairly by wielding the federal taxing power to undermine his adversaries. But a year ago, when the current Internal Revenue Service scandal that has swirled around Mr. Obama first emerged, Washington — and, apparently, the White House — shrugged. It was March 2012 and Tea Party groups around the country had been complaining for months of what they called an I.R.S. conspiracy to delay and disrupt their efforts to obtain tax-free status. A few Republicans in Congress expressed concern, sent letters to I.R.S. officials and scheduled a hearing.
National: Confusion and Staff Troubles Rife at I.R.S. Office in Ohio – Unprepared Office Seemed Unclear About the Rules | New York Times
During the summer of 2010, the dozen or so accountants and tax agents of Group 7822 of the Internal Revenue Service office in Cincinnati got a directive from their manager. A growing number of organizations identifying themselves as part of the Tea Party had begun applying for tax exemptions, the manager said, advising the workers to be on the lookout for them and other groups planning to get involved in elections. “I don’t believe there’s any such thing as rogue agents,” said Bonnie Esrig, a former senior manager in the I.R.S. office in Cincinnati. The specialists, hunched over laptops on the office’s fourth floor, rarely discussed politics, one former supervisor said. Low-level employees in what many in the I.R.S. consider a backwater, they processed thousands of applications a year, mostly from charities like private schools or hospitals.
There’s an irony in the Internal Revenue Service’s crackdown on conservative groups. The nation’s tax agency has admitted to inappropriately scrutinizing smaller tea party organizations that applied for tax-exempt status, and senior Treasury Department officials were notified in the midst of the 2012 presidential election season that an internal investigation was underway. But the IRS largely maintained a hands-off policy with the much larger, big-budget organizations on the left and right that were most influential in the elections and are organized under a section of the tax code that allows them to hide their donors.
National: How the IRS seeded the clouds in 2010 for a political deluge three years later | The Washington Post
In early 2010, an Internal Revenue Service team in Cincinnati began noticing a stream of applications from groups with political-sounding names, setting in motion a dragnet aimed at separating legitimate tax-exempt groups from those working to get candidates elected. The IRS officials decided to single out one type of political group for particular scrutiny. “These cases involve various local organizations in the Tea Party movement,” read one internal IRS e-mail sent at the time. A few hours north in Fremont, Ohio, the owners of a drainage supply shop, Tom and Marion Bower, were wondering why it was taking so long to get a tax exemption for their new tea party group. “I didn’t think any of us thought we’d be targeted,” said Marion Bower, of American Patriots Against Government Excess. “We started the group because we wanted to learn about our country and educate people. Now I’m becoming a little paranoid. If they can do this, what else can they do?”
National: Dan Pfeiffer: Legal questions in IRS scandal ‘irrelevant’ to ‘inexcusable’ actions | Washington Post
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday the question of whether any laws were broken in the Internal Revenue Scandal is “irrelevant” to the fact that the agency’s actions were wrong and unjustifiable. “I can’t speak to the law here. The law is irrelevant,” Pfefiffer said on ABC News’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” “The activity was outrageous and inexcusable, and it was stopped and it needs to be fixed to ensure it never happens again.” Stephanopoulos replied: “You don’t really mean the law is irrelevant, do you?” Pfeiffer responded: “What I mean is, whether it’s legal or illegal is not important to the fact that the conduct doesn’t matter. The Department of Justice has said that they’re looking into the legality of this. The president is not going to wait for that. We have to make sure it does not happen again, regardless of how that turns out.”
Patriot Majority USA, a social welfare nonprofit, told the Internal Revenue Service that its mission is “to encourage a discussion of economic issues.” In exchange for keeping its donors private and paying fewer taxes, it must limit its involvement in politics. Yet last year Patriot Majority, run by Democratic operative Craig Varoga in Washington, spent at least $7.5 million on TV ads attacking Republican candidates on issues such as women’s health screenings and equal pay. With the Nov. 6 election over, the nonprofit shows signs of going dormant with e-mails bouncing back unopened and phone calls unanswered.
Let’s not make excuses for the IRS. The agency shouldn’t have subjected conservative groups to special scrutiny. Campaign finance reform groups should have immediately called for hearings when this scandal broke: Imagine the hue and cry if the IRS during the Bush administration had singled out “progressive” groups for special tax scrutiny and sent themunprecedented questions about their contributors and activities. Given the danger going back to President Richard Nixon of using the IRS against political enemies, the agency has to be scrupulously nonpartisan and fair. Congressional investigations and the Department of Justicecriminal investigation announced Tuesday are inevitable and warranted. But the larger picture here shows why the IRS felt itself forced into the role of campaign finance regulator, and why people also are calling for the Securities and Exchange Commissionand state attorneys general to regulate campaign contributions. This is all about the failure of Congress to require the disclosure of donors who bankroll groups designed to influence elections.
Steven Miller, who is being forced out as acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, told House lawmakers today that the IRS has learned from its mistakes while denying that it had targeted nonprofit groups for review because of their political views. Under persistent questioning from House Republicans at the first hearing on the agency’s scrutiny of small-government groups that applied for tax-exempt status, Miller insisted that IRS employees didn’t have partisan motivations. “What happened here is that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient,” Miller said at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing that lasted almost four hours.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made a point of emphasizing during the Bush v. Gore arguments in December 2000 that there is no federal constitutional guarantee of a right to vote for president. Scalia was right. Indeed, as the reform group FairVote reminds us, “Because there is no right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, individual states set their own electoral policies and procedures. This leads to confusing and sometimes contradictory policies regarding ballot design, polling hours, voting equipment, voter registration requirements, and ex-felon voting rights. As a result, our electoral system is divided into 50 states, more than 3,000 counties and approximately 13,000 voting districts, all separate and unequal.” Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison want to do something about that. The two congressmen, both former state legislators with long histories of engagement with voting-rights issues, on Monday unveiled a proposal to explicitly guarantee the right to vote in the Constitution.
In spring 2010, agents in the Cincinnati office of the Internal Revenue Service, which handles applications for tax-exempt status, faced a surge of filings by new advocacy groups, with little guidance on how to treat them. Their decision to deal with the problem by singling out tea party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny has now triggered a criminal inquiry, congressional investigations, the departure of two top IRS officials and the naming of a new acting commissioner Thursday. For former IRS staff and tax experts, the case confirms what they view as one of the agency’s long-standing weaknesses: its inability to cope with the growing number of tax-exempt advocacy groups that appear to stretch the law to engage in politics.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recently said that she has second thoughts about Bush v. Gore. Whatever feelings she now expresses, the U.S. Supreme Court’s involvement at that time obviously had implications for election law, and, of course, the direction of our nation. Since then, the court has ruled on a variety of important voting rights cases, and in a matter of weeks the court is expected to hand down decisions in two additional ones, also having far-reaching consequences. One involves an Alabama county that opposes federal oversight of its election procedures, and the other concerns the scope of Arizona’s law requiring voters to submit documentary proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Both cases, Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder and Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, consider the authority of Congress to protect voters against state and local ordinances that impinge upon fundamental voting rights.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made a point of emphasizing during the Bush v. Gore arguments in December 2000 that there is no federal constitutional guarantee of a right to vote for president. He was right about that. Indeed, as the reform group FairVote reminds us: “Because there is no right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, individual states set their own electoral policies and procedures. This leads to confusing and sometimes contradictory policies regarding ballot design, polling hours, voting equipment, voter registration requirements, and ex-felon voting rights. As a result, our electoral system is divided into 50 states, more than 3,000 counties and approximately 13,000 voting districts, all separate and unequal.” Mark Pocan wants to do something about that. With Minnesota Congressmen Keith Ellison — who like Pocan is a former state legislator with a long history of engagement with voting rights issues — the Wisconsin Democrat on Monday unveiled an amendment to explicitly guarantee the right to vote in the Constitution.
President Barack Obama vowed Wednesday to hold accountable those at the Internal Revenue Service involved in the targeting of conservative groups applying for federal tax-exempt status, beginning with the resignation of the agency’s acting commissioner who was aware of the practice. In a brief statement delivered to reporters in the East Room of the White House, the president announced that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had requested — and accepted — the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller. The president said the “misconduct” detailed in the IRS Inspector General’s report released Tuesday over the singling out of conservative groups is “inexcusable.”
“Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I’m angry about it,” Obama said.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday warned top officials at the Internal Revenue Service that criminal laws on false statements could come into play in a Justice Department investigation on the agency’s targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Appearing at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Holder said the investigation would examine whether groups of individuals had their civil rights criminally violated and whether statutes governing I.R.S. conduct were violated. After repeated accusations from senior lawmakers that top I.R.S. officials had lied to them, Mr. Holder also issued a warning: “False-statement violations might have been made, given at least what I know at this point.” Three Congressional committees already have hearings planned to investigate the agency’s activities, and an early focus appears to be on whether I.R.S. officials lied to members of Congress.
President Obama announced Wednesday night that the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service had been ousted after disclosures that the agency gave special scrutiny to conservative groups. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., meanwhile, warned top I.R.S. officials that a Justice Department inquiry would examine any false statements to see if they constituted a crime. Speaking in the White House’s formal East Room, Mr. Obama said Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew had asked for and accepted the resignation of the acting commissioner, Steven Miller, who as deputy commissioner was aware of the agency’s efforts to demand more information from conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status in early 2012. “Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I’m angry about it,” Mr. Obama said. “It should not matter what political stripe you’re from. The fact of the matter is the I.R.S. has to operate with absolute integrity.”
An inspector general’s report issued Tuesday blamed ineffective Internal Revenue Service management in the failure to stop employees from singling out conservative groups for added scrutiny. Congressional aides, meanwhile, sought to determine whether the Obama administration’s knowledge of the effort extended beyond the I.R.S. House and Senate aides said they were focusing on an Aug. 4, 2011, meeting in which the I.R.S.’s chief counsel appears to have conferred with agency officials to discuss the activities of a team in the Cincinnati field office that had been subjecting applications for tax-exempt status from Tea Party and other conservative groups to a greater degree of review than those from other organizations. Under I.R.S. rules, the agency’s chief counsel, William J. Wilkins, reports to the Treasury Department’s general counsel, and investigators want to determine if Mr. Wilkins took the issue out of the independent I.R.S. to other parts of the Obama administration.
The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status. One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected. Progress Texas, another of the organizations, faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries.
What is known so far about the Internal Revenue Service’s examination of political nonprofit groups doesn’t answer one main question — whether the U.S. tax agency’s actions were malicious or just inept. IRS employees, trying to figure out how to sort through a surge in applications for nonprofit status, used shortcut phrases such as “Tea Party” and “patriot” to flag groups for scrutiny, according to an inspector general’s timeline. After IRS officials raised concerns in June 2011, there’s no evidence that the agency started over with a new system. That scrutiny was elevated to a scandal on May 10, when Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, acknowledged in remarks to a conference of tax lawyers that applications using those phrases had been singled out for extra examination. The filtering done by IRS employees in Cincinnati now imperils the agency’s ability to enforce the laws on politically active nonprofit groups.
On Friday, May 10, a top official with the Internal Revenue Service dropped a bombshell. IRS staffers had singled out conservative organizations with “tea party” or “patriots” in their name that were seeking tax-exempt nonprofit status, subjecting them to extra scrutiny to see if they were abusing the tax law as it relates to political activity. They grilled these conservative groups about their members, their donors, their public statements, and who they employed. And there is no evidence yet that the IRS systemically treated non-conservative groups with the same level of attention. Speaking to a group of tax lawyers, the IRS official, Lois Lerner, who oversees the agency’s exempt organizations division, publicly apologized for the IRS’s actions. Ever since, Democratic and Republican politicians have been falling over themselves to condemn the IRS.
National: IRS Office That Targeted Tea Party Also Disclosed Confidential Docs From Conservative Groups | ProPublica
The same IRS office that deliberatelytargeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status in the run-up to the 2012 election released nine pending confidential applications of conservative groups to ProPublica late last year. The IRS did not respond to requests Monday following up about that release, and whether it had determined how the applications were sent to ProPublica. In response to a request for the applications for 67 different nonprofits last November, the Cincinnati office of the IRS sent ProPublica applications or documentation for 31 groups. Nine of those applications had not yet been approved—meaning they were not supposed to be made public. (We made six of those public, after redacting their financial information, deeming that they were newsworthy.)
National: IRS officials in Washington were involved in targeting of conservative groups | Washington Post
Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved with investigating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, making clear that the effort reached well beyond the branch in Cincinnati that was initially blamed, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. IRS officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters sent queries to conservative groups asking about their donors and other aspects of their operations, while officials in the El Monte and Laguna Niguel offices in California sent similar questionnaires to tea-party-affiliated groups, the documents show. IRS employees in Cincinnati told conservatives seeking the status of “social welfare” groups that a task force in Washington was overseeing their applications, according to interviews with the activists.
A group of Senate Democrats, led by Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), complained to the IRS commissioner in 2012 that political groups were improperly claiming tax-exempt status and possibly allowing donors to wrongly claim tax deductions for their contributions. The lawmakers promised legislation if the IRS failed to address the issues with specific measures, namely clarifying how much political activity is acceptable for tax-exempt groups, requiring the organizations to document how much of their work is dedicated to non-political purposes and demanding that they tell donors what percentage of their contributions can be claimed as deductions. “We urge the IRS to take these steps immediately to prevent abuse of the tax code by political groups focused on federal election activities,” the senators said.
It’s one of the oldest traditions in Washington: Take an oversight post or a staff job on a government panel for a few years — then cash in at one of the city’s top law firms, lobbying shops or consulting outfits. But at the Federal Election Commission, the revolving door has virtually stopped moving. That’s mostly because for many qualified nominees, the post is just not worth the hassle. Unlike top regulatory or policy jobs at the Commerce Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Communications Commission and others, there’s not necessarily a lucrative job waiting at the end of their terms. Former commissioners, attorneys and outside observers say that lack of a potential career boost — or worse, losing business and clients with no guarantee of being confirmed — is one reason that’s kept potential new members on the sidelines.
The Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of conservative groups went beyond those with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names—as the agency admitted Friday—to also include ones worried about government spending, debt or taxes, and even ones that lobbied to “make America a better place to live,” according to new details of a government probe. The investigation also revealed that a high-ranking IRS official knew as early as mid-2011 that conservative groups were being inappropriately targeted—nearly a year before then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a congressional committee the agency wasn’t targeting conservative groups. Tax-exempt groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code are allowed to engage in some political activity, but the primary focus of their efforts must remain promoting social welfare.
The Internal Revenue Service apologized to Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations on Friday for what it now says were overzealous audits of their applications for tax-exempt status. Lois Lerner, the director of the I.R.S. division that oversees tax-exempt groups, acknowledged that the agency had singled out nonprofit applicants with the terms “Tea Party” or “patriots” in their titles in an effort to respond to a surge in applications for tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012. She insisted that the move was not driven by politics, but she added, “We made some mistakes; some people didn’t use good judgment. For that we’re apologetic,” she told reporters on a conference call.
The Internal Revenue Service dropped a bombshell on the political world Friday morning, acknowledging that it inappropriately targeted conservative political groups in the 2012 campaign, subjecting them to additional screening in their applications for tax-exempt status. An IRS official told the Associated Press that low-level staff unjustly focused on groups with words like “tea party” and “patriot” in their name, and the groups were asked for donor information, likely in violation of IRS policy. The news was met with a healthy dose of I-told-you-so from the conservative and tea party communities, which have long been pitted against the IRS and have in the past accused it of just such politically inappropriate behavior.
President Obama should apologize for the admission by the IRS that it singled out conservative Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny as they applied for non-profit status, Republican members of Congress said Sunday. They also called for an investigation of the agency. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the IRS actions were “truly outrageous” and “chilling” on CNN’s State of the Union. A public apology was “absolutely” needed, Collins said. “I think that it’s very disappointing the president hasn’t personally condemned this and spoken out. … (T)he president needs to make it crystal clear that this is totally unacceptable in America.”
When tax agents started singling out non-profit groups for extra scrutiny in 2010, they looked at first only for key words such as ‘Tea Party,’ but later they focused on criticisms by groups of “how the country is being run,” according to investigative findings reviewed by Reuters on Sunday. Over two years, IRS field office agents repeatedly changed their criteria while sifting through thousands of applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status to select ones for possible closer examination, the findings showed. At one point, the agents chose to screen applications from groups focused on making “America a better place to live.” Exactly who at the IRS made the decisions to start applying extra scrutiny was not clear from the findings, which were contained in portions of an investigative report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).