IRS filing: We targeted 426 organizations, not 298

In May 2013, the Inspector General for the Treasury Department reported that the IRS had targeted 298 organizations applying for tax-exempt status, almost all of whom were conservative groups. Tea Party-related groups came under special scrutiny and delay tactics, despite repeated assurances to Congress that no such targeting was taking place. Last month, in response to lawsuits, the IRS finally produced a list of targeted organizations — and the Washington Times reported yesterday that the actual number was much higher at 426. But how many of those got added late in the game?

More than three years after it admitted to targeting tea party groups for intrusive scrutiny, the IRS has finally released a near-complete list of the organizations it snagged in a political dragnet.

The tax agency filed the list last month as part of a court case after a series of federal judges, fed up with what they said was the agency’s stonewalling, ordered it to get a move on. The case is a class-action lawsuit, so the list of names is critical to knowing the scope of those who would have a claim against the IRS. …

The government released names of 426 organizations. Another 40 were not released as part of the list because they had already opted out of being part of the class-action suit.

That total is much higher than the 298 groups the IRS‘ inspector general identified back in May 2013, when investigators first revealed the agency had been subjecting applications to long — potentially illegal — delays, and forcing them to answer intrusive questions about their activities. Tea party and conservative groups said they was [sic] the target of unusually heavy investigations and longer delays.

At first, this seems damning. The IRS admits to a longer list of targeted organizations after long denying political bias at all? The attorney representing the conservative groups smells a rat:

Edward D. Greim, the lawyer who’s pursuing the case on behalf of NorCal Tea Party Patriots and other members of the class, said the list also could have ballooned toward the end of the targeting as the IRS, once it knew it was being investigated, snagged more liberal groups in its operations to try to soften perceptions of political bias.

Even before the IG conducted its independent probe, Congress had put the IRS under more and more pressure on the rumors of targeting. That prompted Lois Lerner and IRS chief counsel William Wilkins to promulgate a modified set of criteria in April 2012 — two days after Wilkins spent nearly seven hours at the White House, meeting with Barack Obama. No one has ever explained why the chief counsel for the IRS was meeting directly with Obama or why the modified criteria emerged two days later. As chief counsel, Wilkins would report to the IRS Commissioner on most issues, and might have an occasional need to coordinate with the White House counsel. Why would Wilkins need to meet with Obama directly, and for so long?

At that point, the IRS might have realized that it needed to start adding in some progressive groups as a cover for its political bias in tax-exempt applications. That seems to have been the point of modifying the criteria in April 2012, but if the IG report provides any indication, they didn’t get serious about it until much later. The dates for the targeting of the additional 128 organizations should be fairly easy to ascertain — the IRS is nothing if not a paperwork mill — and if the late additions all look left of center and all took place after April 2012 or especially after May 2013, it might go a long way to proving the plaintiffs’ point.