Over the past six months, this Committee has investigated the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups. Though our investigation is not complete, and the IRS still has many more documents to provide to the Committee, we have discovered a concerted effort by the IRS to limit the ability of those targeted conservative groups to operate and engage in constitutionally protected public debate.
Some in Washington have tried to sweep this under the rug, calling the IRS targeting an attempt to “streamline determinations” that was based in “confusion” about the rules. That rhetoric does not match the reality of what this investigation has uncovered so far:
- Before February 2010, the IRS was processing and approving Tea Party cases within three months without Washington, DC intervention.
- Tea Party cases were flagged due to “media attention” in February 2010, not as a result of any confusion as to how to interpret 501(c)(4) law.
Additionally, we now know that the IRS targeted not only right-leaning applicants, but also right-leaning groups that were already operating as 501(c)(4)s. At Washington, DC’s direction, dozens of groups operating as 501(c)(4)s were flagged for IRS surveillance, including monitoring of the groups’ activities, websites and any other publicly available information. Of these groups, 83 percent were right-leaning. And of the groups the IRS selected for audit, 100 percent were right-leaning.
All of this provides context for today’s markup, which is legislation we are considering that would stop the ability of the IRS and Treasury to legalize the targeting of conservative groups. On Black Friday, Treasury released proposed rules regarding 501(c)(4)s that would essentially remove conservative groups from the public square. The rationale of the IRS and Treasury was that the rules, which have been in place for more than 50 years, created “confusion.”
However, we learned that Treasury and the IRS had been working on these guidelines behind closed doors for years. According to interviews with IRS employees, as early as 2011, work started on new 501(c)(4) regulations. A June 2012 email between Treasury officials and then-IRS Director of Tax Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner revealed that these potential regulations were being discussed “off-plan” – meaning that the plans for the regulations were not to be published on the public schedule. Treasury’s fabricated rationale for changing a 50-year old rule raises serious questions about the integrity of the rule-making process and counsels for putting a hold on the draft rules.
It is important to note that the Committee has made these discoveries without even having the full universe of documents requested from the IRS – including thousands of documents from Lois Lerner that have not yet been provided. Simply put, our investigation is not yet over, the document collection is not yet complete, and I don’t believe the IRS or the FBI has interviewed a single victim. The notion that the Administration would rush forward with rules intended to remove these groups from the public forum, is simply unacceptable.
Under these proposed rules, activities such as candidate forums, get out the vote efforts, and voter registration would now be considered “political activity” for 501(c)(4) groups. It is notable to mention that these activities would not be considered political for 501(c)(3)s – who cannot engage in any political activity – or unions.
I have long made clear that this Committee will fight any and all efforts to restrict the rights of groups to organize, speak out and educate the public. The legislation before us today would prevent these rules from being implemented by this Administration for one year. This timeframe would allow Congress to finish our investigation and ensure that the agency processes what is already a record number of public comments – more than 23,000 so far – so that the IRS and Treasury can really get to the merits of why these rules were formed.
Groups should be treated fairly regardless of their political beliefs. The “STOP Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act” ensures that this Administration will not be allowed to discriminate against groups based on their politics.