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.
Republicans seized on the acknowledgment, demanding more information and adding it to a growing list of steps by the Obama administration that they say prove political interference, from allegations of hiding the terrorist origins of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, to the demand for disclosure of donors to conservative “super PACs.”
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, called for “a transparent, governmentwide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not under way at the I.R.S. or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views.”
The apology and the ensuing reaction could be a turning point for the I.R.S., which has been caught between Congressional Democrats pressing the agency to more aggressively protect tax-exempt status from overtly political groups and conservative groups claiming harassment.