Michigan’s Representative Carl Levin Targeted Conservatives in IRS Scandal – UPDATED

When the IRS targeting scandal broke last year, officials in Washington attempted to cast the blame for its targeting of conservative groups on an IRS regional office in Cincinnati.  The IRS used glaring orange and yellow warning labels on files related to select conservative issues of concern for “tea party” organizations.

Now the scandal, which led to a charge of “contempt of Congress” for former IRS official Lois Lerner who blocked the investigation, has reached into Michigan.  Letters just released show that Democratic Senator Carl Levin pressured the IRS to employ greater scrutiny for conservative groups seeking a favorable 501(c)(4) tax status from the government.

An email from Lois Lerner which was also just released explains how BOLO (be on the look out) lists were used to flag tea party groups or groups with issues related to government spending, debt, taxes and “how the country is being run.”

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Carl Levin (D-MI)

Frank Beckmann, host of a popular talk show on Detroit’s News/Talk 760 WJR, updates the scandal story, explaining Levin’s involvement, in an op ed column in today’s Detroit News.  Beckmann describes an interview on his show with Ramona Cotca, senior attorney for the conservative watchdog organization Judicial Watch:

Levin’s first letter — dated March 30, 2012, 7 months before that year’s presidential election — was directed to then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman and emphasized the “urgency” of tackling the issue of possible political activity by nonprofit applicants.

Levin, who has announced his retirement at the end of his current term, didn’t explain why the issue was so urgent but he demanded information within three weeks on whether the IRS was “seeking any information about political activities, and how the IRS determines whether and when to send that questionnaire.”

To make matters worse, Judicial Watch Senior Attorney Ramona Cotca said on my WJR radio show that Levin’s letters cited 10 organizations for special attention.

Nine were on the conservative side of the aisle.

Beckmann added that

Levin, who has announced his retirement at the end of his current term, didn’t explain why the issue was so urgent but he demanded information within three weeks on whether the IRS was “seeking any information about political activities, and how the IRS determines whether and when to send that questionnaire.”

Senator Levin’s involvement in the illegal targeting has been confirmed in letters obtained under court order by Judicial Watch:

A series of letters between Senator Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations, and top IRS officials throughout 2012 discuss how to target conservative groups the senator claimed were “engaged in political activities.” In response to a Levin March 30 letter citing the “urgency of the issue,” then-Deputy Commissioner Steven Miller assured the senator that IRS regulations were flexible enough to allow IRS agents to “prepare individualized questions and requests” for select 501(c)(4) organizations.

The newly released IRS documents contain several letters and emails revealing an intense effort by Levin and IRS officials to determine what, if any, existing IRS policies could be used to revoke the nonprofit exemptions of active conservative groups and deny exemptions to new applicants. In a July 30, 2012, letter, Levin singles out 12 groups he wants investigated for “political activity.” Of the groups – which include the Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform, the 60 Plus Association, and the Susan B. Anthony List – only one, Priorities USA, is notably left-leaning.

As the 2012 presidential election drew nearer, Levin sent a series of letters to the IRS intensifying his campaign against predominantly conservative nonprofit groups:

  • September 27, 2012:  Levin asks for copies of the answers to IRS exemption application question 15 – a question about planned political expenditures – from four specific groups: Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, Priorities USA, Americans for Prosperity, and Patriot Majority USA.
  • October 17, 2012:  Miller informs Levin, “As discussed in our previous responses dated June 4, 2012, and August 24, 2012, the IRS cannot legally disclose whether the organizations on your list have applied for tax exemptions unless and until such application is approved.” Miller, however, then informs Levin that Americans for Prosperity and Patriot Majority have been approved, but the IRS has no records for Crossroads and Priorities USA.
  • October 23, 2012:  Levin writes to again express his dissatisfaction with the IRS handling of “social welfare” (501(c)(4) organizations insisting that IRS guidance “misinterprets the law” by allowing any political activity. He again demands an answer as to whether the four organizations he listed in his previous letter were primarily engaged in the promotion of social welfare.  He also seeks copies of tax exempt revocation letters sent due to c4 political activities, as well as statistics on how many c4s have been notified that they may be in violation due to political activities.

In perhaps the most revealing letter from the IRS to Levin, Miller on June 4, 2012, takes 16 pages to explain to the senator what IRS regulations and policies may and may not be used to evaluate political groups and assures him that the agency has considerable leeway in picking and choosing which groups would be subject to additional scrutiny:

There is no standard questionnaire used to obtain information about political activities. Although there is a template development letter that describes the general information on the case development process, the letter does not specify the information to be requested from any particular organization … Consequently, revenue agents prepare individualized questions and requests for documents relevant to the application. . .

Judicial Watch’s report also reveals another blatant abuse of administrative power, the apparent pressure on individual citizens:  An estimated 10% of individual donors to tea party groups had their tax returns audited by the IRS, as compared to 1% nationally.

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That Levin’s intent was to pressure the tax agency is clear.  He was joined in his effort by fellow Democratic Senators Max Baucus and Dick Durbin.  Despite Democrats’ insinuations, there is no evidence that any Republicans tried to coerce the IRS to manipulate the tax exempt status of liberal groups.

Frank Beckmann  expressed his concern:

The overarching concern for Americans from all of this is quite clear.

If the IRS is used for political purposes against individual groups, couldn’t it be used in a similar way against any individual American, especially if a powerful politician urges the action?

It would appear, from the Judicial Watch report, that the Orwellian world which Beckmann fears has already come to pass.

UPDATE:

The Internal Revenue Service has been ordered to pay damages to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) in the amount of $50,000 for releasing their tax records illegally.  See that story here.


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