Despite nearly two years of denials, last month the IRS finally admitted the truth – three years ago the agency began systematically targeting individuals based on their political beliefs. However, what the agency has yet to admit, and what we still need to find out, is just how widespread this activity was, who ordered it and why it began in the first place.
Now, let’s consider what we do know.
- In March 2010, the IRS put together a target list that ensnared conservative groups and individuals based solely on their political beliefs.
- In May 2011, the IRS started sending letters threatening donors to conservative leaning non-profits that they could be liable for gift taxes.
- In June 2011, the Ways and Means Committee initiated an investigation into those letters and highlighted concerns that individual taxpayers might have been targeted for their political beliefs.
- In June 2011, the senior leadership in the Washington, DC office of the IRS also became aware that IRS workers had been using lists to target groups with names containing “Tea Party,” “Patriots” or “9/12 Project.”
- In March of 2012, the Huffington Post published the confidential 2008 donor list of the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative tax-exempt organization.
- In July 2012, the Administration (thru the Treasury Department) was informed by the Treasury Inspector General of a TIGTA audit examining the targeting of groups by the IRS.
- In May 2013, the public and Congress were finally told that this practice had occurred, but only after a scathing report by TIGTA resulted in senior IRS officials planting a question about the targeting activity prior to the report’s release.
- And just this weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the IRS gift tax letter that launched this Committee’s initial investigation was in fact the result of a conservative organization and its donors being targeted for their political beliefs.
Those are the facts that we know.
We also know that Americans were affected by the culture of political intimidation and discrimination that was cultivated by this targeting.
At its core, this investigation is about how and why the IRS was empowered and allowed to use a broken tax code to abuse individuals based on their beliefs – and seemingly only based on their beliefs.
And who are these Americans? While their life stories are different, what they all share in common is that they are Americans who did what we ask people to do every day – add their voice to the dialogue that defines our country. And for pursuing that passion, for simply exercising their First Amendment rights – the freedoms of association, expression and religion, the IRS singled them out.
Today’s witnesses will help this Committee and the American people better understand just how far off track the IRS has gone. Their testimony will show that the IRS’s practice of treating certain Americans differently on the basis of their beliefs was not limited to the discriminatory conduct revealed by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s report released on May 14, 2013.
Victims included Tea Party and non-Tea Party groups, 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations and 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, including religious organizations. All of the witnesses received onerous and intrusive questionnaires from IRS agents across the country. Some even had their confidential information leaked by the IRS to the media, which can have the impact of chilling free speech.
Information requests to some included questions that were not only irrelevant but also intimidating – not to mention a violation of privacy. Those requests included asking for the following:
- Copies of ALL activity on Facebook or Twitter;
- Resumes of all past or present employees;
- Whether past or present employees or a member of their family plans to run for office in the future;
- A list of past or present board members or members of their family that volunteer at a tax-exempt organization;
- Information on their interaction with the media;
- Details regarding the group’s relationship with a private taxpayer; and
- A list of donors.
The invited witnesses are but a small sample of Americans who have been treated differently and discriminated against by their government because of their individual, deeply held beliefs. There are many, many more.
Again, I thank all of the witnesses for being here with us today – for the time you have taken to travel here and for sharing your stories and experiences. While we might not know why this happened, please be assured that learning firsthand from you about how the IRS used the tax code to intimidate and harass you will help us take the steps necessary to make sure this never happens again.