It’s another day in the never-ending saga of the menacing IRS agents against the beleaguered Tea Party, some four years after the first set of applications made their way to the Cincinnati Tax Exempt Determinations Unit. The implication thus far has been that a small band of reprobate IRS agents from Cincinnati were intentionally obstructing the patriotic work of our most loyal citizens. This image is perpetuated by the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee with the most extreme rhetoric, stronger than anything we’re seeing in the media. It doesn’t conduct the investigation in a fair and impartial manner, which oddly enough is what the investigation claims was done to citizens. Instead, it leaks testimony, verbally insults witnesses, cuts off the microphone of committee members, and blasts a blatantly political heading, charging: “The IRS: Targeting Americans for Their Political Beliefs.”
This is unacceptable and false on so many levels. What’s worse, this completely bogus inquisition, put on by Congressman Darrell Issa, is maligning the integrity of so many agents doing nothing more than ensuring political organizations do not intentionally evade taxes they are required to pay. The only intentional “targeting” going on is by groups pretending they aren’t going to engage in campaign activity when they know they are.
Who are these government workers who are actually under criminal investigation, thanks to Chairman Issa? They are citizens like Elizabeth Hofacre, an Army veteran, Boston University MBA, and IRS employee since 1999. She was the “emerging issues coordinator” in April of 2010 and was one of the first to be confronted with the uptick in Tea Party applications. She did not say liberal cases were not processed, as has been misinterpreted by the media. She said they were not part of her role as an “emerging issues coordinator.” In her own words, she sent “those applications to general inventory since they were not within the scope of the Tea Party emerging issue.”
She coordinated with Carter Hull, an IRS tax law specialist in Washington DC, at the Rulings and Agreements office that has oversight of the Determinations Unit in Cincinnati. Carter Hull is a Vietnam veteran who received his degree in 1965 and then gave 48 years to the IRS. In his testimony, he states he received two test cases that he reviewed with Elizabeth Hofacre and then “drafted documents stating my recommendations and analysis.” He was charged with developing a template letter that would ensure a consistent line of questioning for groups that might illegally engage in lobbying and campaigning. In the fall of 2010, the Cincinnati manager, Cindy Thomas, a 35-year IRS veteran, told Holly Paz, a Washington DC manager, that this letter was not prepared. No cases were processed during this time, meaning no “emerging issue” organization was denied tax exempt status for any reason.
These actions were reviewed by supervisors Elizabeth Kastenberg and Judy Kindell. Judith Kindell received her JD from Columbia Law School in 1986, an LLM in 1995, and has worked as a tax law Specialist at the IRS since 1991. Interestingly enough, she wrote the IRS Rules for Exempt Organizations in an Election Year, which was used as a reference during Darrell Issa’s witch hunt against ACORN’s activities.
Between April 2010 and July 2010, a system was materializing to identify groups that claimed social or educational status that might be political in nature. Terminology was added to the database in the form of a BOLO (Be On the Lookout) list which has four tabs. “Emerging Issues” is one of those tabs, and where the Tea Party keywords were entered into the spreadsheet. As was later acknowledged, there were BOLOs for “Progressive,” “ACORN successor” and “Emerge”, although those keywords were entered into a separate tab as they were not new organizations with new issues.
By July of 2011, the use of group names had come to the attention of Holly Paz in Washington DC. Holly received her JD at University of Pennsylvania Law School, and spent her years in private practice and the IRS focused on exempt organizations. She reported the information to her superior, Lois Lerner, who has now become notorious for invoking her Fifth Amendment rights. At that point, a teleconference was arranged to correct the keywords to “political,” “lobbying “or “advocacy.” Holly Paz became aware of another set of inappropriate changes to the BOLO database in January 2012, and reported it to Lois Lerner. According to the TIGTA report, the Cincinnati office thought the July 2011 criteria were “too broad” and added policy positions in order to tag groups that might be involved in campaigning.
Several individuals worked diligently throughout 2012 to obtain additional information from applicants, design communications, and receive training. Unfortunately, the IRS is not like a small local business where a minor misstep in a form letter can be fixed with an apology and 10% off coupon. As we see by this “investigation,” the ramifications of ill-conceived policies and procedures can be seemingly eternal.
During 2012, Tea Party groups began complaining to the media and Congress about the processing of their applications. Obviously they were anxious to affect the election, but that detail seems to be lost on the media and public at large. The Inspector General’s office was engaged to run an audit of the applications. Inspector General Russell George, a Bush appointee who received his JD from Harvard Law, headed the audit. Despite finding fault with the operation of the IRS, he emphatically stated during several hearings, that there was “no indication that pulling these selected applications was politically motivated” and that he “made it patently clear, but we had not found such motivation — political motivation.”
It is clear that neither the Tea Party nor any other liberal or conservative group was targeted for their political beliefs, despite what is splattered all over the House Oversight website of our government. It is especially sad that so many have accepted the characterization, including the President and most members of Congress. The reality is that these groups voluntarily sent in applications for tax exempt status, which triggered any “targeting” from the moment they put a stamp on an envelope. The same criteria is applied to churches and charter schools, for instance, which routinely receive scrutiny by the IRS for illegal campaign activity.
For following through with IRS tax law, passed by Congress and signed by Presidents, employees have been dragged through the mud by Congressman Issa. Steven Miller, George Washington University law graduate, resigned his position as head of the IRS in May 2013, despite only starting the position months earlier. According to Reuters, he received threats to his life and was under federal security protection. Holly Paz, whose life was threatened and children terrorized by actual intrusions into her home, was reportedly fired. Lois Lerner received death threats as well. Many Cincinnati employees have felt threatened, both by unknown individuals and IRS security, and at times have become prisoners in their own homes.
Once again, our country is hijacked by Tea Party extremists with the assistance of a headline-hungry media which is as intimidated by the Tea Party as are our legislators. Any remaining concerns are being followed up by the FBI; who thus far have said they don’t find the “enemy hunting” that Congressman Issa is desperately seeking. It is well past time to pull the plug on this False News sham.