IRS managers delayed approval of tea party requests for routine tax exemptions by assigning all of them to a single employee in Cincinnati for special review, according to footnote 14 of the blockbuster Inspector General report.
The single employee was the only person working on the reviews for at least 18 months.
From early 2010, “the [review] team consisted of one specialist, but it was expanded to several specialists in December 2011,” says the report, entitled “Inappropriate Criteria Were Used to Identify Tax-Exempt Applications for Review.”
The extra staffers were added six months after the manager of the IRS’s “Exempt Organizations” office was briefed on the special reviews in June 2011.
The report, published May 14 by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, does not say how many tea party groups were assigned to the single employee before the additional employees were added.
However, the bottleneck ensured that many tea party groups’ requests were extensively delayed, hindering their political activity and curbing their fundraising throughout 2010, 2011 and 2012.
“For the 296 total political campaign intervention applications TIGTA reviewed as of December 17, 2012, 108 had been approved, 28 were withdrawn by the applicant, none had been denied, and 160 were open from 206 to 1,138 calendar days,” said the report.
The delay kept some groups — such as the Tea Party Patriots — in bureaucratic limbo “for more than three years and crossing two election cycles,” said the report.
In contrast, most organizations’ tax-exemption requests were approved without extensive checks, said the report. “In Fiscal Year 2012, 70 percent of all closed applications for tax-exempt status were approved during an initial review with little or no additional information from the organizations.”
But all submissions from tea party groups were tagged for special review, said the report.
“While the team of specialists reviewed applications from a variety of organizations, we determined during our reviews of statistical samples of I.R.C. § 501(c)(4) tax-exempt applications that all cases with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names were forwarded to the team of specialists,” said the report.
The groups which were targeted in early 2010 were targeted by an the IRS’s Cincinnati-based “Determination Unit” office.
The unit developed its own criteria for identifying groups that deserved extra scrutiny and review.
“In May 2010, the Determinations Unit began developing a spreadsheet… which included the emerging issue of Tea Party applications … [and] requested [by July 2010] its specialists to be on the lookout for Tea Party applications,” said the report.
IRS employees refused to reveal who developed the criteria, said the TIGTA report. “During interviews with Determinations Unit specialists and managers, we could not specifically determine who had been involved in creating the criteria,” said the report.
IRS officials in the D.C.-based Rulings and Agreements office “referred to these cases as Tea Party cases,” the report said.