Democratic Montana Senator Max Baucus is leading an investigation into why the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny despite the fact that Baucus once wrote a letter urging the IRS to do exactly that.
Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, will head the committee’s investigation into the IRS, which apologized Friday for targeting groups with the terms “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their titles for extra scrutiny of their nonprofit status as early as 2011.
However, Baucus once wrote a letter requesting that the IRS engage in that very conduct.
Baucus wrote a letter to then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman dated September 28, 2010 urging the IRS to investigative nonprofit conservative groups during the Tea Party-dominated 2010 midterm elections.
“With hundreds of millions of dollars being spent in election contests by tax-exempt entities, it is time to take a fresh look at current practices and how they comport with the Internal Revenue Code’s rules for nonprofits,” Baucus wrote in the letter.
“I request that you and your agency survey major 501(c)(4), (c)(5) and (c)(6) organizations involved in political campaign activity to examine whether they are operated for the organization’s intended tax exempt purpose and to ensure that political campaign activity is not the organization’s primary activity,” Baucus wrote in the letter.
“The tax exemption given to non-profit organizations comes with a responsibility to serve the public interest and Congress has an obligation to exercise the vigorous oversight necessary to ensure they do,” Baucus said in a 2010 statement accompanying his letter.
Though Baucus identified 501 (c) (5) groups — or labor unions — as worthy of investigation, the only organizations cited in his request were conservative, pro-Republican groups.
Baucus specifically named Americans for Job Security, which is described as a “pro-Republican organization,” as a specific target for the IRS to investigate.
Crossroads GPS, co-founded by Karl Rove, and American Action Network, chaired by former Republican senator Norm Coleman, were also cited in press coverage related to Baucus’ letter as pro-Republican groups helping to elect GOP congressional candidates in 2010.
Those organizations appeared in a September 16, 2010 TIME article by writer Michael Crowley titled, “The New GOP Money Stampede.” Baucus cited that piece in his letter to the IRS.
Whatever the fallout might be from such a conflict of interest, Baucus won’t be around too much longer to deal with it.
He’s already announced his retirement from the Senate, and won’t run for re-election in 2014.
A Baucus spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.