Proof the IRS Didn't Target Just Conservatives

Almost one third of the tax-exemption applications selected for additional scrutiny by the IRS were from groups that were not conservative.

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The Treasury report on tax exempt groups showed that only a third of targeted groups were Tea Party-class groups, but no explanation was given for the identity of the majority marked "other." (TIGTA)

Close to a third of the advocacy groups named by the Internal Revenue Service as recipients of special scrutiny during tax-exempt application reviews were liberal or neutral in political outlook, a leading nonpartisan tax newsletter reported after conducting an independent analysis of data released by the agency.

All told, around 470 groups were flagged as "potential political cases" between 2010 and 2012, including 298 whose experiences were analyzed in a Treasury Department inspector general's report. Because the IRS by law must not name groups that have not yet been approved or which were rejected, only a subset of their names was made public in May by the agency -- 176 cases.

Of these, "the majority of the groups selected for extra scrutiny probably matched the political criteria the IRS used and backed conservative causes, the Tea Party, or limited government generally," wrote Martin A. Sullivan in a June 3 piece in Tax Notes, a newsletter published by the Tax Analysts group. "But a substantial minority -- almost one third of the subset -- did not fit that description."

Non-conservative advocacy groups given special scrutiny by the IRS in or after 2010 included the Coffee Party USA, the alternative to the Tea Party movement that got a bunch of press in 2010, as well as such explicitly progressive groups as the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada; Rebuild the Dream, founded by former Obama administration official Van Jones; and Progressives United Inc., which was founded by former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold.

Also included in the special scrutiny were Progress Texas and Progress Missouri Inc.; Tie the Knot, which sells bow ties to raise money to promote same-sex marriage; and ProgressNow, which describes itself as "a year-round never-ending progressive campaign."

The targeting also rolled up centrist groups, such as the Across the Aisle Foundation -- the educational and cultural arm of No Labels, which worked to build momentum for an independent ticket for the presidency -- and politically neutral ones, such as The East Hampton Group for Good Government Inc., formed to encourage better leadership and management of the New York vacation town, and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii.

All of these groups were flagged by the IRS along with the Tea Party class of groups as "potential political cases" and were part of the 31 percent of groups given special scrutiny that were not clearly conservative.

Sullivan's Tax Notes piece lays out what we know about the cases that are public so far:

Because the IRS is prohibited by law from releasing information on applications either denied or not yet approved, we will probably never know the political persuasions of all 298 advocacy cases selected for extra scrutiny and of the additional 170 or so applications selected since then. We can, however, try to assess the political persuasion of the 176 approved organizations that the IRS identified on May 15....

As noted, 46 organizations on the May 15 IRS list had "Tea Party," "patriots," or "9/12" project in their name. Tax Analysts conducted Web searches of the other 130 organizations on the list to determine if the groups were conservative organizations. In 124 cases, we found what we believe is sufficient information to make a good faith determination whether a group was conservative....

[T]the results of the Tax Analysts review of these organizations are the following: 46 with "Tea Party," "patriots," or "9/12 project" in their name, 76 other conservative organizations, 48 nonconservative organizations, and six organizations about which we can make no determination....

Ultimately, to address the question whether the IRS's review of applicants for tax exempt status had a disparate impact on one side of the political spectrum or the other, we will need to know more about the overall pool of advocacy groups applying for tax exemption. For example, if there were a surge in the creation of potentially political conservative organizations in the last few years (that was disproportionate to the creation of nonconservative organizations), more conservative groups would be targeted than nonconservative groups even if there were no political bias among IRS officials. Looking at the makeup of exemption-approved groups tells us nothing about bias unless we know the makeup of the group from which they were selected.

A spokesman for the Treasury inspector general for tax administration (TIGTA), David Barnes, said he'd not heard anything about a list of progressive groups targeted by the IRS and referred me to page 8 of the inspector general's report for his office's understanding of the matter.

It stated: "approximately one-third of the applications identified for processing by the team of specialists included Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names, while the remainder did not. According to the Director, Rulings and Agreements, the fact that the team of specialists worked applications that did not involve the Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 groups demonstrated that the IRS was not politically biased in its identification of applications for processing by the team of specialists."

The TIGTA decided that there was bias because "we determined during our reviews of statistical samples of I.R.C. § 501(c)(4) tax-exempt applications that all cases with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names were forwarded to the team of specialists" between May 2010 and May 2012 (emphasis added).

Though the Treasury inspectors found that one third of the groups given special scrutiny probably should not have been, they declined to say in their May report what the political leanings of theses improperly selected groups were: "We reviewed all 298 applications that had been identified as potential political cases as of May 31, 2012. In the majority of cases, we agreed that the applications submitted included indications of significant political campaign intervention. However, we did not identify any indications of significant political campaign intervention for 91 (31 percent) of the 296 applications that had complete documentation."

Most likely, these improperly selected cases were -- like the selected cases that the IRS has released data on so far -- a mixture of liberal, conservative, and neutral (civic pride, good government, etc.) in outlook.

More flawed than the selection process -- which flagged groups that should not have been given extra scrutiny as well many that appropriately received it but which were selected using improper criteria, according to the TIGTA report -- were the lengthy delays in processing applications and the excessive and intrusive questions asked of the selected groups. According to the report, 58 percent of inquiries asked of those groups were later deemed unnecessary.


Below, the list of 48 nonconservative groups identified by Tax Analysts in their inquiry.

Table 1. Nonconservative 'Centralized' Tax-Exempt Organizations

   Organization Name     Status              Mission or Description
   1. Across the         501(c)(3)           Educational arm of No

   Aisle Foundation                          Labels, a centrist

                                             policy advocacy group;


                                             bipartisanship on

                                             Capitol Hill.
   2. ALICE (American    501(c)(3)           Provides a Web-based

   Legislative and                           public library of

   Issue Campaign                            progressive law on a

   Exchange)                                 wide range of issues in

                                             state and local policy

                                             ("a very partial

                                             antidote to ALEC

                                             [American Legislative

                                             Exchange Council], the


   3. Chattanooga        501(c)(3)           Helps individuals and

   Organized For                             organizations "to build

   Action                                    the power of everyday

                                             people from

                                             marginalized and

                                             oppressed communities

                                             to take control of the

                                             circumstances of their

   4. Comeback           501(c)(3)           "[Promotes] fiscal

   America Initiative                        responsibility and

   Inc.                                      sustainability by

                                             engaging the public and

                                             assisting key

                                             policymakers on a

                                             nonpartisan basis in

                                             order to achieve

                                             solutions to U.S.

                                             fiscal imbalances."

                                             Former U.S. Comptroller

                                             General David Walker is

   5. Corporate          501(c)(3)           A project of

   Accountability                            Philadelphia-based

   Project                                   ActionPA; "provides

                                             educational organizing

                                             resources for fighting

                                             corporate power."
   6. East Hampton       501(c)(3)           Promotes improved local

   Group for Good                            government in East

   Government Inc.                           Hampton, N.Y.
   7. Engage San         501(c)(3)           San Diego-based

   Diego                                     "regional network of

                                             organizations working

                                             in historically

                                             underrepresented and

                                             socially responsible

   8. Intersections      501(c)(3)           A network of ministries

   Inc.                                      to empower young people

                                             in American Samoa

                                             "through programs that

                                             combine the arts and

                                             technology with the


                                             vocational, and

                                             spiritual disciplines."
   9. Miami-Dade         501(c)(3)           "An independent,

   Taxpayers Alliance                        nonpartisan research

   Inc.                                      institute dedicated to

                                             better stewardship of

                                             Miami-Dade County's tax

   10. National Jobs     501(c)(3)           "Committed to building

   for All Coalition                         a new movement for full

                                             employment at livable

                                             wages." Affiliated with

                                             many liberal

   11. Northeast Ohio    501(c)(3)           "Enables and expands

   Voter Advocacy                            voter education and

   Inc.                                      registration in

                                             underrepresented areas

                                             of the City of

                                             Cleveland, Cuyahoga

                                             County, and other

                                             counties of northeast

   12. Open Sky          501(c)(3)           Nebraska-based fiscal

   Policy Institute                          policy research group;

                                             generally opposes

                                             income tax cuts.
   13. Progress          501(c)(3)           "Multi-issue

   Missouri Education                        progressive advocacy

   Fund                                      organization" focused

                                             on state and local

   14. Public Works:     501(c)(3)           Director previously

   The Center for the                        founded the Texas-based

   Public Sector                             Center for Public

                                             Policy Priorities, a

                                             nonprofit, nonpartisan

                                             organization committed

                                             to building the

                                             economic and social

                                             well-being of

                                             low-income Texans.
   15. Rebellious        501(c)(3)           Seeks to "unveil the

   Truths                                    curtain of dastardly

                                             deeds and the cobweb of

                                             lies entangling

   16. Restoration       501(c)(3)           Grass-roots

   Philadelphia Inc.                         organization made up of

                                             individuals, churches,

                                             and ministries

                                             committed to

                                             "mobilizing the Church

                                             of Philadelphia to

                                             fulfill its destiny and

                                             restoring the City of

                                             Brotherly Love, so that

                                             the vision of William

                                             Penn's Holy Experiment

                                             becomes a reality and

                                             the Glory of God is

                                             revealed all."
   17. Sarasota Tiger    501(c)(3)           Nonpartisan political

   Bay Club Inc.                             organization that hosts

                                             debates, forums, and

                                             speakers in central

   18. Center for        501(c)(3)           San Francisco-based

   Election Science                          group dedicated to


   19. Center for        501(c)(3)           Conducts research and

   Health Care Policy                        analysis necessary for

                                             the creation of a

                                             single-payer healthcare

   20. Alliance for a    501(c)(4)           Multi-issue education

   Better Utah Inc.                          and advocacy

                                             organization promoting

                                             progressive ideas and

   21. Campaign for      501(c)(4)           Advocates for greater

   Vermont Prosperity                        state government

   Inc.                                      transparency and

                                             accountability and a

                                             stronger economy with

                                             more and better-paying

                                             jobs while espousing a

                                             commitment to social

                                             responsibility and


   22. Coffee Party      501(c)(4)           Founded on the

   USA                                       underlying principle

                                             that the government "is

                                             not the enemy of the

                                             people." Seeks to

                                             remove corporate

                                             influence from

   23. Committee for     501(c)(4)           Focuses on the roles

   a Fair Judiciary                          and responsibilities of

                                             senators in the

                                             judicial selection

                                             process and seeks to

                                             educate the public

                                             about how the process

                                             works and how it could

                                             work better.
   24. Freedom Club      501(c)(4)           Aims to guide members

                                             to financial, health,

                                             emotional, and

                                             spiritual freedoms ("to

                                             raise the life energy

                                             of Mother Earth and

                                             Mankind to new heights

                                             and welcome in the new

                                             era of Love, Prosperity

                                             and Cooperation").
   25. Delawareans       501(c)(4)           National coalition of

   for Social and                            community-based

   Economic Justice                          organizations composed

                                             of parents and students

                                             in low-income

                                             communities focused on

                                             unveiling a report on

                                             schools that are

                                             eligible for federal


   26. Grantville        501(c)(4)           Local government group

   Action Group                              in San Diego that

                                             opposes development.
   27. Homeless but      501(c)(4)           Registers voters at

   Not Powerless                             shelters, soup

                                             kitchens, parks, and

   28. League of         501(c)(4)           State chapter of

   Women Voters of                           national organization

   Hawaii                                    to educate policymakers

                                             and the public on

   29. Louisiana         501(c)(4)           Advances progressive

   Progress Action                           state policy solutions.

   Fund Inc.
   30. Middle Class      501(c)(4)           San Diego-based

   Taxpayers                                 organization that

   Association                               serves as a voice for

                                             those "not served by

                                             big business-funded

                                             taxpayer groups."
   31. Missourians       501(c)(4)           Group opposing

   for Fair Taxation                         reductions in income

                                             tax that are paid for

                                             through sales tax

   32. New American      501(c)(4)           Coalition of CEOs,

   Economy Action                            start-up founders, and

   Fund                                      venture capitalists

                                             formed to press

                                             Congress to pass

                                             immigration reform that

                                             would encourage

                                             innovation and create

   33. New York Civic    501(c)(4)           Associated with

   Action Inc.                               left-leaning network

                                             action groups.
   34. Nicolas           501(c)(4)           Dedicated to the design

   Berggruen                                 and implementation of

   Institute                                 new ideas of good

                                             governance that can be

                                             brought to bear on the

                                             common challenges of

                                             globalization in the

                                             21st century.
   35. No on 22 --       501(c)(4)           Opposes California

   Citizens Against                          Proposition 22, which

   Taxpayer Giveaways                        would give money to

                                             redevelopment agencies

                                             at the expense of state

                                             core services such as

                                             public education.

                                             Sponsored by

   36. Progressive       501(c)(4)           Brings diverse and

   Leadership                                potentially competing

   Alliance of Nevada                        organizations together

                                             into one cohesive force

                                             for social and

                                             environmental justice

                                             in Nevada.
   37. Progress          501(c)(4)           Promotes a stronger

   Missouri Inc.                             progressive movement in

                                             Missouri and advances

                                             in progressive public

   38. Progress Texas    501(c)(4)           Organizes rapid

                                             response communications

                                             in opposition to

                                             conservative groups.
   39. Progressive       501(c)(4)           "We advocate for

   USA Inc.                                  sensible policy

                                             solutions, hold our

                                             nation's elected

                                             officials accountable

                                             for their actions and

                                             take head-on the flawed

                                             policies and hypocrisy

                                             of the radical right."
   40. Progressives      501(c)(4)           Opposes corporate

   United Inc.                               influence in the

                                             political system.
   41. Progress Now      501(c)(4)           Progressive campaign.
   42. Rebuild the       501(c)(4)           Supports pro-union

   Dream                                     demonstrations in

   43. RVA Alliance      501(c)(4)           Affiliated with the

   Inc.                                      Alliance for

                                             Progressive Values.
   44. Texas Business    501(c)(4)           Promotes education with

   for Higher                                no apparent political

   Education                                 agenda.
   45. Tie the Knot      501(c)(4)           Sells bow ties to raise

                                             money to promote

                                             legalizing same-sex

   46. TN Fair Tax       501(c)(4)           Promotes the creation

                                             of a progressive

                                             Tennessee state tax

                                             structure that ensures

                                             adequate revenues.
   47. U.S. Common       501(c)(4)           Group's president is

   Action                                    affiliated with

                                             California Common

                                             Sense, a group

                                             dedicated to open

   48. U.S. Health       501(c)(4)           Promotes the right to

   Freedom Coalition                         access alternative

   Inc.                                      medical treatments such

                                             as naturopathy.