IRS official in charge during Tea Party targeting now runs agency's Obamacare office

The second IRS guy who got the boot in this scandal? He’s been in his position for a week. Before that, it was Sarah Hall Ingram:

The Internal Revenue Service official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations at the time when the unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for the health care legislation.

Sarah Hall Ingram served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations between 2009 and 2012. But Ingram has since left that part of the IRS and is now the director of the IRS’ Affordable Care Act office, the IRS confirmed to ABC News today.

Her successor, Joseph Grant, is taking the fall for misdeeds at the scandal-plagued unit between 2010 and 2012. During at least part of that time, Grant served as deputy commissioner of the tax-exempt unit.

Grant announced today that he would retire June 3, despite being appointed as commissioner of the tax-exempt office May 8, a week ago.


The news takes this tweet from taunting to foreboding:

It’s the law not to abuse power at the IRS to stifle one side’s voices based on political or ideological criteria, too. And, it was the law when Ingram was head of Exempt Organizations.

Sarah Hall Ingram is a career IRS employee, having graduated from Georgetown Law in 1982 to start her career in IRS Tax Litigation. She became Commissioner of the Tax-Exempt and Government Entitles Division of the IRS in 2009. She also served as deputy commissioner in that department between 2004-2006 (to Steven Miller), where she presumably would have had the opportunity to scrutinize the determination applications of a flood of left-leaning 501(c)4s. Surely, the anti-Bush fervor and politics of an off-year election would have created a disproportionate number of liberal groups applying for status even pre-Citizens United— a situation similar to the one that allegedly justified the IRS’ improper scrutiny of conservatives in 2010— yet we haven’t heard about Ingram coming down systematically on them.

You won’t be surprised to find out that Ingram’s public remarks indicate she embraces a rather activist role for the IRS in determining whether tax-exempt organizations are doing their jobs— a philosophy she acknowledged as “somewhat controversial[ly] – at least to some” at a 2009 Georgetown University Law Center Continuing Legal Education event on non-profit governance. Ingram’s position was that the IRS should have a say in governance guidelines for non-profits and then use adoption of those guidelines as a way of eliminating groups from the universe of those who might warrant further scrutiny.


Ironically, in lecturing non-profits about “internal controls,” she touched upon the internal controls that didn’t work at the IRS:

What I am aiming at, under the rubric of “good governance,” is the development by each organization of a system of internal controls that is appropriate to the organization itself. Let me say it again. One size does not fit all. But it is fair to ask all organizations whether they have in place systems, safeguards, or controls to minimize the risk of events occurring that contravene the Code’s requirements for tax-exemption.

Asking for internal controls is not a radical idea. It happens everywhere, in every kind of organization. External auditors look for internal controls in audits of financial statements of all kinds of businesses, and write it up when they are lacking. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration looks for them when it reviews TE/GE’s programs. It is a familiar concept.

She mentioned the struggle to decide who deserved scrutiny, which according to the IRS led to the “Tea Party” and “patriot” flags as short cuts:

As a practical matter, we cannot subject every application for tax-exempt status to a painstaking, leave-no-rock-unturned review. Nor can we audit every organization’s 990 every year. Nor would you want us to do so, right? To govern is to choose, and we must choose appropriately which applications or 990s to focus most attention on.


Much of her speech was directed at governance of established non-profits well beyond the applications process in which many Tea Party groups got stalled, but she had some specific remarks about “determinations,” including new tools that offer “a more nuanced evaluation of some features of a determination letter application.”

“We may encourage applicants to incorporate principles of good governance into their organizational structures, and thereby reduce their risk of something going wrong later, but we are not requiring adherence to a particular set of rules,” she said. “We are striving to be balanced in the training. We emphasize that not all exempt organizations are alike and that one size does not fit all when it comes to governance.”

And, finally:

The federal tax law must be applied consistently across the country, and we will use both our education and outreach programs and a meaningful enforcement presence to accomplish this.

Enjoy Obamacare’s perfectly fair and competent governance, everyone. It’s the law.

Update: Oh, how could I forget? She got $100K in bonuses. Of course.

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John Sexton 7:20 PM on November 30, 2023