IRS Apologizes for Flagging Tea Party Groups Seeking Tax Exemption

The Internal Revenue Service has acknowledged that some of its employees failed to exercise good judgment by singling out for audit Tea Party-affiliated groups seeking tax-exempt status, the New York Times reports.

To more effectively process applications for tax exemption between 2010 and 2012, a period when the number of such applications nearly doubled, the IRS centralized the application processing at its Cincinnati field office, as it has in the past. However, in an effort to expedite the processing, staff members there singled out applications with the terms "Tea Party" and "patriot" for further review. According to Lois Lerner, director of the agency's exempt organizations division, the processing "shortcut" resulted in about three hundred applications — about a quarter of them Tea Party-related — being flagged for additional scrutiny.

During a conference call last week, Lerner said the agency, whose leadership was appointed by the previous administration, was "apologetic" for the actions taken by some staffers in Cincinnati, and that it has implemented policy changes to ensure similar episodes do not occur in the future.

According to the Times, watchdog groups pushing for more aggressive enforcement policies with respect to tax exemption are concerned the revelation that the agency was wrongfully targeting groups with a particular political ideology will cause it to be less likely to enforce laws already on the books in the future. "We don't think it's inappropriate to ask questions," said Lisa Gilbert, director of the Congress Watch division at Public Citizen. "Tax-exempt groups are abusing their tax status to pursue political agendas."