Sunday, May 19, 2013

TIGTA says no evidence leads to White House participation in IRS 501(c) scandal


So full of joy were Republicans when another so-called scandal looked like it could involve the upper levels of the Obama administration.  I'll call it the IRS501(c) scandal, even though calling it a scandal is a real stretch.  

Fox news contributors seriously reported that this IRS manipulation was being controlled by the White House so that Republicans would lose Ohio.  This had to be the case they believed, otherwise Obama would have lost the 2012 Presidential election.  People say ignorance is bliss but spreading that kind of misinformation is unforgivable. 

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) was notified by certain Republican members of Congress that they suspected wrongdoing at the IRS.  The TIGTA did an audit investigation of the situation at the IRS and published their findings.  They found no evidence that the White House was involved in any way.     

The incident took place during a time when Douglas H. Shulman was IRS Commissioner.  Mr. Shulman was a Republican and a George W. Bush appointee to the office.   Does anyone seriously think (other than Fox news and the radical right wing media) that President Obama could manipulate a Republican to target other Republicans for political gain?  Of course not.
George W. Bush

And what happened at the IRS exactly?  The IRS saw a dramatic increase in the number of applications by groups and individuals for 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 tax exempt status for their organization.  Per tax regulations 501(c)3 exempt organizations cannot have political ties at all and must receive IRS approval.  The 501(c)4 organizations may only have limited and not primary focus on political issues.  It is the job of the IRS to investigate these applications to ensure that they meet the requirements.

The IRS receives nearly 70,000 tax exemption requests each year.  All of the applications for tax exemption are sent to the IRS office in Cincinnati, Ohio where less than 200 employees must review each one.  In order to facilitate this daunting task, some of the workers there used character searches to find those exemptions that may be 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 types.  Since the workers noticed a lot of the applications had words such as "Tea Party" and "Patriot" which implied to them that they may be 501(c) exemption requests , they used such words to help them filter out the applications.  

IRS indicates that these were not the only search terms used and that there was no political bias intended in any of their searches.   In fact only 70 of the 296 cases reviewed contained the words "Tea Party".   However, IRS management realizes that this method is "inappropriate"  and vows to change the process.   They note that even if the search process was not used, information in the application would still have targeted these same groups for follow-up (or as IRS calls it "centralization".)   There are currently 470 cases that are centralized.

The TIGTA found that the IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax‑exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention.

They identified that ineffective IRS management:
1) allowed inappropriate criteria to be developed and stay in place for more than 18 months,
2) resulted in substantial delays in processing certain applications, and
3) allowed unnecessary information requests to be issued.

Although the processing of some applications with potential significant political campaign intervention was started soon after receipt, no work was completed on the majority of these applications for 13 months. This was due to delays in receiving assistance from the Exempt Organizations function Headquarters office.

For the 296 total political campaign intervention applications TIGTA reviewed as of December 17, 2012, 108 had been approved, 28 were withdrawn by the applicants, none had been denied, and 160 were open from 206 to 1,138 calendar days (some for more than three years and crossing two election cycles).

More than 20 months after the initial case was identified, processing the cases began in earnest. Many organizations received requests for additional information from the IRS that included unnecessary, burdensome questions (e.g., lists of past and future donors). The IRS later informed some organizations that they did not need to provide previously requested information. IRS officials stated that any donor information received in response to a request from its Determinations Unit was later destroyed.

Ultimately, this so-called scandal is really a few IRS employees innocently trying to expedite their work assignments by a process which coincidentally gives the perception of political bias to people so biased in their own beliefs and so quick to judgement that they were inclined to blow this out of proportion, especially in their attempts to link it to President Obama.

Barack Obama is the President of the United States.  It's time Republicans started treating him that way.
President Obama

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