Lois Lerner didn’t care to speak when she was invited for tea before congressional committees, and it turns out that no charges will be filed against her over her shyness. But that may not be the end of the story for the IRS scandal. A judge in Ohio has consented to a request filed by representatives of several Tea Party groups which calls for the IRS to turn over the full list of conservative groups selected for extra special scrutiny when they filed for nonprofit status.
A federal judge has ordered the Internal Revenue Service to hand over a list of the 298 tea party organizations that it targeted with broad and often intrusive questions when they applied for nonprofit tax-exempt status.
The decision from U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott means right-wing groups are a step closer to being allowed to pursue a class-action lawsuit against the IRS.
The agency has admitted playing political favorites with the tax code beginning in 2010, when it began applying extra scrutiny to groups with red-flag words like ‘patriots’ or ‘tea party’ in their names.
While those organizations’ applications were held up for years, liberal groups sailed through the process.
Federal tax-exempt status is confered on groups that serve a public purpose, including issue advocacy, and allows them to promise tax deductions to their donors.
There are several layers to this particular onion. The White House fought back from day one against any such disclosures, saying that releasing the requested information would require exposing private data which the IRS is forbidden to reveal. But that’s only intended to protect individuals, businesses and groups from having all the particulars about their internal business exposed, not the simple fact that they exist and pay taxes. In this suit, rather than asking for all of the numbers, the IRS is simply being asked to provide a spreadsheet containing the identities of the groups under scrutiny. The judge agreed that the case couldn’t be decided without that bare minimum data.
More interesting are the possibilities which follow if the data finally comes to light. If the groups can establish that they all fall under the same umbrella of potential discrimination, they can be bound together in a class action suit. This opens up a range of possibilities, including the hope that the secretive agency will be forced to expose their practices to the public.
Exit question: The Feds are, at this point, refusing to go after Lerner. If this suit succeeds and all of the internal workings of the system are brought to light, including how they selected the groups singled out for “special attention” in the application process, is there another bite at the apple in the offing? Could Lerner wind up back before Congress? And if so, will she just plead the 5th again?