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Documents show IRS also screened liberal groups
Tuesday - 6/25/2013, 3:24am EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Internal Revenue Service's screening of groups seeking tax-exempt status was broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed, the new head of the agency acknowledged Monday. Terms including "Israel," ''Progressive" and "Occupy" were used by agency workers to help pick groups for closer examination, according to an internal IRS document obtained by The Associated Press.
The IRS has been under fire since last month after admitting it targeted tea party and other conservative groups that wanted the tax-exempt designation for tough examinations. While investigators have said that agency screening for those groups had stopped in May 2012, Monday's revelations made it clear that screening for other kinds of organizations continued until earlier this month, when the agency's new chief, Danny Werfel, says he discovered it and ordered it halted.
The IRS document said an investigation into why specific terms were included was still underway. It blamed the continued use of inappropriate criteria by screeners on "a lapse in judgment" by the agency's former top officials. The document did not name the officials, but many top leaders have been replaced.
Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released 15 lists of terms that the IRS agency used and has provided to congressional investigators. Some of the lists, which evolved over time, used the terms "Progressive" and "Tea Party" and others including "Medical Marijuana," ''Occupied Territory Advocacy," ''Healthcare legislation," ''Newspaper Entities" and "Paying National Debt."
The lists were dated between August 2010 and April 2013 -- the month before the IRS targeting of conservative groups was revealed. They ranged from 11 pages to 17 pages but were heavily blacked out to protect sensitive taxpayer information.
Neither the IRS document obtained by the AP or the 15 IRS lists of terms addressed how many progressive groups received close scrutiny or how the agency treated their requests. Dozens of conservative groups saw their applications experience lengthy delays, and they received unusually intrusive questions about their donors and other details that agency officials have conceded were inappropriate.
In a conference call with reporters, Werfel said that after becoming acting IRS chief last month, he discovered varied and improper terms on the lists and said screeners were still using them.
He did not specify what terms were on the lists, but said he suspended the use of all such lists immediately. Lists from April 2013 that were released included the terms "Paying National Debt" and "Green Energy Organizations."
"There was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum" on the lists, Werfel said. He added that his aides found those lists contained "inappropriate criteria that was in use."
Werfel ordered a halt in the use of spreadsheets listing the terms -- called BOLO lists for "be on the lookout for-- on June 12 and formalized their suspension with a June 20 written order, according to the IRS document the AP obtained. Investigators have previously said that the lists evolved over time as screeners found new names and phrases to help them identify groups to examine.
Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released one of the lists, dated November 2010, that the IRS has provided to congressional investigators. That 16-page document, with many parts blacked out, shows that the terms "Progressive" and "Tea Party" were both on that list, as well as "Medical Marijuana," ''occupied territory advocacy" and "Healthcare legislation."
Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Ways and Means panel, said he was writing a letter to J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general whose audit in May detailed IRS targeting of conservatives, asking why his report did not mention other groups that were targeted.
"The audit served as the basis and impetus for a wide range of congressional investigations and this new information shows that the foundation of those investigations is flawed in a fundamental way," Levin said.
Republicans said there was a distinction. A statement by the GOP staff of House Ways and Means said, "It is one thing to flag a group, it is quite another to repeatedly target and abuse conservative groups."
George's report criticized the IRS for using "inappropriate criteria" to identify tea party and other conservative groups. It did not mention more liberal organizations, but in response to questions from lawmakers at congressional hearings, George said he had recently found other lists that raised concerns about other "political factors" he did not specify.
On Monday, Karen Kraushaar, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, said their May audit focused on terms the IRS used to pick cases to be studied for political campaign activity, which might disqualify a group from tax-exempt status.