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Here's another smoldering ember in the IRS's Tea Party targeting kerfuffle: the same Cincinnati office responsible for giving some extra scrutiny to conservative "social welfare" groups applying for non-profit status also released confidential, pending applications to at least one media organization.

As Washington gets ready for a good, old-fashioned scandal (right now, they have their pick), ProPublica published a startling run-down of their dealings with the IRS office in question. Essentially, while investigating the political activity of conservative groups operating under the donor-shielding "social welfare" designation in 2012, reporters made a habit of requesting applications from potentially politically active non-profits. Those applications are supposed to be public only after they've been approved. But ProPublica says, in response to one request, that they received nine pending applications, including that of Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS. Despite a warning from an IRS spokesperson (who also acknowledged that those applications shouldn't have been released in the first place), ProPublica published information from six of the confidential applications anyway, citing newsworthiness. That prompted the following response from Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio: 

“As far as we know, the Crossroads application is still pending, in which case it seems that either you obtained whatever document you have illegally, or that it has been approved.”

While it looks like Collegio's suspicion that something was up was right, his scrutiny was directed at the wrong group.

Notably, the 2012 ProPublica investigation apparently focused on the same question raised by the IRS in the first place: are non-profits under the broadly-defined "social welfare" 501(c)(4) non-profit designation overreaching on political advocacy (which is allowed) and working to support specific candidates (which isn't)? But the IRS, by inappropriately targeting specific groups with specific political affiliations in the application process itself, have arguably made that question a whole lot harder to ask. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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