IRS: Oh, by the way, we improperly targeted conservative and tea-party groups last year; Update: No disciplinary action

No hard feelings?

The Internal Revenue Service is apologizing for inappropriately flagging conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.

Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS unit that oversees tax-exempt groups, said organizations that included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status were singled out for additional reviews.

Lerner said the practice, initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati, was wrong and she apologized while speaking at a conference in Washington.

Tea-party groups complained endlessly about IRS harassment last year. February 28, 2012:

Tea Party chapters around the nation are blasting the Internal Revenue Service after the federal agency sent them letters demanding information about their politics, contributors and even family members.

In letters sent from IRS offices in Cincinnati earlier this month, chapters including the Waco (Texas) Tea Party and the Ohio Liberty Council were asked to provide a list of donors, identify volunteers, financial support for and relationships with political candidates and parties, and even printed copies of their Facebook pages…

Tea Party leaders say they were particularly offended by demands that they name donors and volunteers, which is required by law, but were also asked to list any political ambitions of board members or their relatives.

News of the harassment made it all the way up to Congress last spring — and yet only now, months after the election, are we finally seeing the IRS come clean. Go figure.

To this day, the left-wing Democratic water-carrying hacks known as Media Matters remain fully tax-exempt. Congressional hearings are now a fait accompli; what I want to know is who’s getting fired in the meantime. Obviously house will be cleaned at the Cincinnati branch. What about Lerner herself? Stand by for updates.

Update: I want to know why the word “patriot” in particular triggered some sort of extra scrutiny. That smells like something you’d see on “Hardball,” treating tea partiers as if they’re some sort of nascent domestic terrorists simply because McVeigh-type nuts often use the word “patriot” too. Is that what happened here, smearing tea party groups with guilt by rhetorical association? Or was this more straightforward harassment of a political opponent?

Update: Some of these tea-party groups have since been granted tax exemption thanks to the ACLJ, which has been litigating on their behalf for more than a year.

As a recap to this past year’s efforts on this front, when these groups submitted their initial requests to the IRS, the IRS did little or nothing with respect to their submitted applications and, in some instances, waited for over 18-20 months to respond.

Once we informed the IRS of our representation of these groups, within days of our taking action we began to receive a high level of cooperation from the agency with regard to these organizations’ files…

Our original assessment of these cases last year raised serious Constitutional concerns. These intrusive requests for extreme amounts of information – in their content, breadth, and vagueness – implicated the free speech rights of our clients and their organizations. As we stated before, requests for the personal information of the organization’s membership lists ran afoul of NAACP v. Alabama and implicated their rights to freedom of association…

As we noted in our extensive coverage of this story last year, the IRS appeared to have been using the routine process of seeking and granting tax exemptions to undertake a sweeping, top-down review of the internal workings of the Tea Party movement in the United States. Such a review is far beyond its mission and directly implicated the First Amendment rights of all citizens.

Here’s a PDF of some of the questions asked by the IRS. Note page 8.

Update: Lerner apparently claimed today that no higher-ups at the IRS knew and that the harassment was not motivated by political bias, even though progressive groups mysteriously seem to have been spared these intrusive inquiries.

In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association.

“The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added.

Update: Glenn Greenwald notes on Twitter that the New York Times dismissed tea partiers’ complaints about this last year and encouraged the IRS to be similarly aggressive towards other 501(c)(4) groups.

Update: Darrell Issa’s going to have a busy summer.

Update: Mary Katharine e-mails with this link to remind me that The One joked about punitive tax audits of his opponents after first taking office in 2009. Tee hee! Who’s getting fired for this clusterfark, champ?

Update: As is usually true for Democratic scandals, the media’s angle on the story will quickly become not the scandal itself but the GOP’s reaction to it. Don’t focus on the misdeeds, focus on the politics.

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