Washington, D.C. — The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has admitted to intentionally targeting conservative groups that included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their tax exempt status applications.
Approximately 75 groups were reportedly subjected to strict scrutiny during the 2012 presidential election simply because of certain key words in their applications, and were sent tedious questionnaires to dig further into their operations. In some cases, the IRS also requested lists of all donors and members’ names.
“It was an error in judgment, and it was not appropriate, but that’s what they did,” said Lois Lerner, department head for tax exempt organizations. “I think they were insensitive, or less sensitive than they should have been.”
Lerner did not elaborate on how many IRS agents were involved in the scheme, nor whether the government agency would punish those involved in any way.
Eric Wilson of the 9/12 Project said that after his group applied for tax exempt status, he received an 88-page questionnaire about the organization’s activities.
“I would love to say that I feel vindicated,” he told reporters. “But to think that the government has the capability to reach into the lives of people in our organization is not only scary but describes the times we live in today.”
According to reports, groups began being targeted as early as March 2010 out of the Cincinnati office. ABC News outlines that the inspector general for the IRS found that senior IRS officials were aware of the scheme as early as August 2011.
Members of Congress are now calling for an investigation into the government agency. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is even demanding the resignation of Commissioner Steven Miller.
“[I]t is clear the IRS cannot operate with even a shred of the American people’s confidence under the current leadership,” he wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. “I strongly urge that you and President Obama demand the IRS Commissioner’s resignation, effectively immediately. No government agency that has behaved in such a manner can possibly instill any faith and respect from the American public.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus called the actions of the IRS an “outrageous abuse of power.”
Barack Obama also weighed in on the matter today, condemning the purposeful targeting of conservative groups.
“If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it,” he said. “I’ve got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.”
Conservative groups are likewise incensed about the matter. Jenny Martin of Tea Party Patriots denounced the scandal on Friday and demanded action.
“The IRS has demonstrated the most disturbing, illegal and outrageous abuse of government power,” she wrote in an official statement. “This deliberate targeting and harassment of tea party groups reaches a new low in illegal government activity and overreach. It is suspicious that the activity of these ‘low-level workers’ was unknown to IRS leadership at the time it occurred.”