Senate Panel Clears IRS of Bias in Screening Tax-Exempt Groups

A Senate panel investigating allegations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for extra scrutiny has found no evidence of political bias in the agency's actions, the Washington Post reports.

In its report, IRS and TIGTA Management Failures Related to 501(c)(4) Applicants Engaged in Campaign Activity (228 pages, PDF), the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations confirmed that the IRS used inappropriate screening criteria when it flagged applications based on groups' names or policy positions. The report also found that the agency took more than a year to process many applications and subjected some groups to intrusive and burdensome questioning. In addition, the panel criticized the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for allegedly failing to make clear in its initial audit of the agency that the IRS had not exclusively targeted conservative groups. The panel concluded that by only citing the use of search terms associated with right-leaning groups and ignoring the fact that terms largely associated with left-leaning groups also were used, TIGTA produced "distorted audit results that continue to be misrepresented." The panel, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), recommended that TIGTA amend its report to clarify that left-leaning groups were treated improperly as well and that the review found "no evidence of political bias."

Republican members of the panel offered dissenting conclusions in the report, finding that the TIGTA audit was "accurate and proper" and arguing that 83 percent of the targeted groups were right-leaning. "Simply stated, the IRS treated these conservative and Tea Party groups differently from other non-conservative groups," the minority staff report said.

"Facts are still coming to light," Inspector General Russell George said in a statement. "I firmly stand behind the audit report that we issued last year, showing the inappropriate treatment of applicants for 501(c)(4) status, for which the IRS apologized. It is important to remember that the IRS accepted all of the recommendations contained in our audit report."