A Long Hot Summer

The IRS and the Targeting of Conservative Groups and Beyond

After this week’s Congressional hearings, the IRS will face more scrutiny than the original allegations of targeting conservative groups. The hearing led to a deeper probing of the wasteful spending within the IRS and opened up an inquiry into the IRS agents themselves.

On Tuesday, Kevin Kookogey, founder of Linchpins of Liberty, an organization teaching students conservative political philosophy, testified that the group lost a $30,000 grant due to the inability to obtain a tax exempt status. However, even more troubling is that IRS officials asked Kookogey for the names of students in the program, essentially requesting information on minors. Disclosing this information would have resulted in complications on various levels. The reality is that the names of the students in the program were not relevant to the organization obtaining tax exempt status.

Stories of this egregious nature continue to be told and exemplify the misconduct of IRS employees. Sue Martinek, the head of the Coalition for Life in Iowa was told by an IRS agent reviewing her group’s application, that her organization would have to cease picketing in front of Planned Parenthood offices. The IRS agent may not agree with the organization’s political beliefs, but the agency has no right to demand that the organization cease certain activities which are lawful and consistent with the First Amendment.

Yet another witness, John Eastman, revealed a troubling incident involving the inappropriate release of donor information. Eastman, a law professor at Chapman’s University of Law and the chairman of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), discovered that copies of the organization’s tax returns and donor lists were leaked to the Human Rights Campaign, a group which claims to be “Working for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equal Rights.” NOM donors were harassed by Human Rights Campaign supporters, leading to an investigation of the leak. NOM has evidence that this information was leaked by the IRS. The investigation uncovered portions of confidential tax documents containing an IRS stamp which had been redacted by the Human Rights Campaign. NOM confronted the IRS about the disclosure and the agency replied that they are unable to discuss confidential taxpayer information.

As the Ways and Means Committee hearing was taking place this week, the IRS internal auditor released a report that the agency frivolously spent $4.1 million on a California conference which took place in 2010. Money was wasted by housing over 100 employees in hotel suites, paying the bar tab for all attendees, and even violating its own tax rules by allowing local Californians to stay at Anaheim hotels without requiring them to pay taxes on their personal expenses. The expenses of this conference were so incorrectly documented, that the Inspector General was unable to determine whether the $4.1 million spent on the conference included all costs incurred, indicating there are likely more expenses that remain undocumented.

Just today, the New York Times/CBS News Poll released a poll which found that regardless of their party affiliation, Americans think the Internal Revenue Service was wrong to target conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, and that it was done for political reasons and not because officials felt it was the right policy to pursue.

The hearings will continue and perhaps, more revelations of targeting conservative groups, misconduct, and wasteful spending may be revealed. No doubt, the IRS senior officials, management, and some IRS employees will experience a “Long, Hot Summer.”

Cherylyn Harley LeBon is former Policy Director for MyGovCost.org at the Independent Institute. She received her B.A. in history cum laude from Canisius College and her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin.
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