TIGTA Preventing Release of Information Relevant to IRS Congressional Investigations

Jul 17, 2013

New information produced in the Congressional investigation shows that the IRS used key search terms to identify organizations that support the Democratic Party for scrutiny – yet the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration is claiming that releasing the search term would violate taxpayer confidentiality laws, contrary to the opinion of the IRS. At least one separate broad group of organizations that are Democratic-leaning have been identified but not released to the public, despite the IRS believing that confidentiality laws do not prohibit its disclosure to the public.  While the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (“TIGTA”) found it appropriate to release the search term “Tea Party,” it is preventing release of similar terms used on the other side of the political spectrum.

The group of Democratic-leaning organizations was denied tax-exempt status after their applications were pending for over three years.  These denials happened during the period of TIGTA’s audit, but they were not disclosed by the Inspector General in the audit report or during his testimony before Congress.  These applications were processed in the same manner as the Tea Party cases were processed, outlined in TIGTA’s audit report released on May 14:

  • the cases were identified and screened for political activities;
  • they were transferred to Exempt Organizations Technical Unit;
  • they were the subject of a Sensitive Case Report;
  • they were subject to multiple levels of review within the IRS; and
  • they were reviewed by IRS Chief Counsel. 

This group of organizations shares a common term in their name that the IRS used to identify the organizations. This search term – which appeared alongside 9/12 Project and Patriots on IRS training materials used to process tax-exemption applications – was redacted from those training materials based on TIGTA’s assertion that release of the information would violate the law.  In its May 14 audit report, TIGTA released the common search term “Tea Party” used by the IRS. 

Ranking Member Sander Levin: “At the outset, I said that singling out organizations by name was wrong.  This new development does not excuse the gross mismanagement of the IRS in processing tax-exemption applications.  It appears as if mismanagement of this issue is not limited to the IRS.  It is imperative that the Inspector General operate in a non-partisan manner and be completely forthcoming with the Congress and the American people.”

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