There Was No Surge in IRS Tax-Exempt Applications in 2010

Fewer groups sought recognition as 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations that year than in 2009, according to the Treasury Department.

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Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
A number of people have sought to explain the IRS targeting of Tea Party, patriot, and 9/12 group applications -- as well as those from other conservative groups -- for "specialist team" treatment (mainly delays and excessive and inappropriate questions) in 2010 by pointing to the Citizens United decision that year allowing for unlimited, undisclosed fundraising by such groups. That's the explanation IRS official Lois Lerner gave a week ago when she first revealed that the agency had improperly handled a slew of applications -- the political shorthand was a mistaken attempt to deal with a surge in applications.

"[W]e saw a big increase in these kind of applications, many of which indicated that they were going to be involved in advocacy work," Lerner said.

But Todd Young, a Republican congressman from Indiana, pointed out at Friday's House Ways and Means Committee hearing with former acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller and Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George that this was not the case, according to the very data the IRS provided to the Treasury IG's office. 

There were, he noted, actually fewer applications for tax-exempt status by groups seeking to be recognized as social-welfare organizations that year than the previous one, according to this IRS data. The real surge in applications did not come until 2012 -- the year the IRS stopped the practice of treating the Tea Party class of groups differently from others.

All of which raises, once again, the question financial journalist David Cay Johnson asked in a column today: "Why is Lois G. Lerner still on the taxpayer's payroll?"

NB: The Chronicle of Philanthropy was on this story two days ago.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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