Trump administration settles with Tea Party groups over IRS scrutiny

The Trump administration has settled a class-action lawsuit brought by conservative groups who were given additional scrutiny by the IRS during the Obama administration. The Associated Press describes the settlement as “very substantial.”

The Trump administration has agreed to what a lawyer described as a “very substantial” payout to hundreds of tea party groups to settle a class-action lawsuit over the extra, often burdensome IRS scrutiny they received when applying for tax-exempt status during the 2012 election…

Eddie Greim, a lawyer representing more than 400 groups in a class-action suit, described the financial settlement as generous but would not elaborate because details remained sealed Thursday. The Justice Department made no reference to a payout in its announcement.

The department said it is settling a second lawsuit with an apology from the IRS for the intensive scrutiny of the groups, which argued their constitutional rights were violated when they were singled out based on their political views.

Fox News reports that the apology from the IRS is spelled out in court documents:

“The IRS admits that its treatment of Plaintiffs during the tax-exempt determination process, including screening their applications based on their names or policy positions, subjecting those applications to heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays, and demanding some Plaintiffs’ information that TIGTA determined was unnecessary to the agency’s determination of their tax-exempt status, was wrong,” the IRS said in court documents. “For such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology.”

The Justice Department’s settlement would pay the claims of each of the over 400 groups in the case. The attorneys for the groups said it was “a great day for the First Amendment,” but noted that day “was too long in coming.”

It really has been a long time coming. I became a small part of this story in 2013 when I wrote about a 2010 video showing the IRS’s Lois Lerner describing the political pressure the IRS was under at the time to “fix the problem” of outside money being used for political purposes in the wake of the Citizens United decision. Republicans on the Oversight Committee later quoted and cited the video it in a report they issued about the IRS’ behavior. Lerner resigned from her job at the IRS in 2013 and later pleaded the Fifth to avoid testifying before Congress. In October 2015 the FBI announced it would not seek to prosecute Lerner for any crime.

The IRS holding up these applications of conservative groups, some for 2 years, has some parallels to a story that broke yesterday about the Obama DOJ’s attempts to turn millions in settlement money into a slush fund for favored groups while keeping that same money out of the hands of conservative groups.