For the last year or so conservatives have been furiously striking the persecution pose, claiming that the IRS was engaged in a systematic campaign to deny non-profit status to Tea Party groups. That’s been known to be nonsense for quite a while now, but the release of new documents to ThinkProgress should kill it forever (substantively, that is; I’m sure Darrell Issa and the right wing media will keep playing pretend as long as they can anyway).
A series of IRS documents, provided to ThinkProgress under the Freedom of Information Act, appears to contradict the claims by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that only Tea Party organizations applying for tax-exempt status “received systematic scrutiny because of their political beliefs.” The 22 “Be On the Look Out” keywords lists, distributed to staff reviewing applications between August 12, 2010 and April 19, 2013, included more explicit references to progressive groups, ACORN successors, and medical marijuana organizations than to Tea Party entities…
The IRS provided the heavily-redacted lists to ThinkProgress, after nearly a year-long search. From the earliest lists through 2012, the “historical” section of the lists encouraged reviewers to watch out for “progressive” groups with names like “blue,” as their requests for 501(c)(3) charitable status might be inappropriate. Their inclusion in this section suggests that the concern predates the initial 2010 list.
Explicit references to “Tea Party,” included in the “emerging issues” section of the lists, also began in August 2010 — but stopped appearing after the May 10, 2011 list. From that point on, the lists instructed agents to flag all political advocacy groups of any stripe. The documents instructed the agents to forward any “organization involved with political, lobbying, or advocacy” applying for 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) status be forwarded to “group 7822″ for additional review. Groups under both categories are limited in the amount of of lobbying and political activity each can undertake.
Other types of groups received explicit scrutiny for longer than “progressive” or “Tea Party” organizations. These included applicants involved with “medical marijuana” but not “exclusively education” (19 appearances in the “watch list” section of the lists), which were to be forwarded to a “group 7888″ and groups believed to be possible successor-groups to ACORN, the now-shuttered Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (12 appearances on the “watch list” section). Those applications were also to be elevated to managers for further review. All 22 documents also flagged applicants with Puerto Rico addresses and certain types of “Testamentary Trusts.”
Last year, the IRS acknowledged that it had improperly flagged groups applying for tax-exempt status for additional scrutiny if they contained common Tea Party keywords in their applications. Rather than addressing the very real problem of political committees masquerading as 501(c)(4) groups to evade public disclosure laws, this approach instead delayed the process for several groups purely on the basis of their names. President Obama and members of both parties in Congress all agree that the IRS acted improperly in singling-out certain groups for more scrutiny than others.
Here’s a chart showing what types of groups were targeted:
The problem here, free of all the partisan bullshit, is that the IRS has a very difficult time determining which organizations fall within the guidelines of the various 501(c) categories, especially categories 3 and 4. The laws are vague and so are the implementation rules. The right wing media did its usual argument-by-anecdote, referring to a few conservative groups that were targeted for additional scrutiny and screaming “OMG, Obama is persecuting us and trying to destroy us!” But the truth is that the IRS selected a wide variety of groups for scrutiny because of those vague rules and more liberal groups were targeted than conservatives ones. That will do absolutely nothing to make them stop making this same claim, of course, because it is useful to them and therefore must be true.