The IRS’ Washington, D.C. headquarters targeted conservative groups in part due to pressure from Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, according to emails obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch and reviewed by The Daily Caller.
Levin, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ permanent subcommittee on investigations, wrote a March 30, 2012 letter to then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman discussing the “urgency” of the issue of possible political activity by nonprofit applicants. Levin asked if the IRS was sending out additional information requests to applicant groups and citing an IRS rejection letter to a conservative group as an example of how the IRS should be conducting its business.
A top IRS official replied that the agency could send out “individualized questions and requests.”
“Some entities claiming tax-exempt status as social welfare organizations under 26 U.S.C.&501(c)(4) appear to be engaged in political activities more appropriate for political organizations claiming tax-exempt status under 26 U.S.C.&527,” Sen. Levin wrote. “Because of the urgency of the issues involved in this matter, please provide the following information by April 20, 2012.”
Levin asked ”if it is not provided on a routine basis, approximately what percentage of such applicants receive an IRS questionnaire seeking information about any political activities, and how the IRS determines whether and when to send that questionnaire; and approximately how many days after an application is filed that questionnaire is typically sent.”
Levin cited a 1997 IRS rejection letter to the conservative group National Policy Forum, formed by former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour, and asked Shulman, “Is it still the position of the IRS that a 501(c)(4) organization cannot engage in any partisan political activity, even as a secondary activity?”
Then-IRS deputy commissioner Steven T. Miller sent Levin a 16-page response explaining that the flexibility of IRS rules allow for the agency to “prepare individualized questions and requests.”
“There is no standard questionnaire used to obtain information about political activities,” Miller wrote. “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. . .”
As TheDC has extensively reported, IRS agents targeted groups’ donors, seized training information, demanded personal information on college interns, and even targeted individuals by name.
The emails obtained by Judicial Watch clearly demonstrate that the targeting was based in Washington, D.C.
IRS official Holly Paz wrote a July 6, 2010 email to Washington-based IRS lawyer Steven Grodnitzky “to let Cindy and Sharon know how we have been handling Tea Party applications in the last few months.” Grodnitzky replied to the email, confirming that the Washington-based Exempt Organization Technical unit (EOT) was designing the targeting in the nation’s capital.
“EOT is working the Tea party applications in coordination with Cincy. We are developing a few applications here in DC and providing copies of our development letters with the agent to use as examples in the development of their cases,” Grodnitzky wrote.
“Chip Hull [another lawyer in IRS headquarters] is working these cases in EOT and working with the agent in Cincy, so any communication should include him as well. Because the Tea party applications are the subject of an SCR [Sensitive Case Report], we cannot resolve any of the cases without coordinating with Rob,” Grodnitzky wrote.
“Rob” is believed to be then-IRS director of rulings and agreements Rob Choi, who was based at the agency’s Washington headquarters, according to Judicial Watch.
Lois Lerner also sent an April 2013 email to IRS internal investigators shortly before the scandal broke, explaining that “staff used their own interpretations of the brief reference to ‘organizations involved with the Tea Party movement,’ which was what was on the BOLO list.”