WASHINGTON (AP) — Ineffective management at the Internal Revenue Service allowed agents to improperly target tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt status, an internal Treasury Department report said Tuesday.
Lax managers allowed the practice to go on for more than 18 months, said the report from the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.
The IRS on Friday apologized for targeting tea party and other conservative groups. The report said that when asked by investigators, IRS supervisors said the criteria they used to decide which groups they examined were not influenced by people or organizations outside the IRS.
The agency started targeting groups with "Tea Party," ''Patriots" or "9/12 Project" in their applications in March 2010. The criteria later evolved to include groups that promoted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The practice ended in May 2012, according to a timeline in the report.
In some cases, the IRS acknowledged, agents inappropriately asked for lists of donors. The agency blamed low-level employees in a Cincinnati, Ohio, office, saying no high-level officials were aware.
An IRS unit in Cincinnati that decided whether groups qualified for tax-exempt status developed their inappropriate standards partly because their managers provided insufficient oversight, the report said.
IRS agents were trying to determine whether the political activities of such groups disqualified them for tax-exempt status. These groups were claiming tax-exempt status as organizations promoting social welfare. Unlike other charitable groups, they can engage in political activity. But politics cannot be their primary mission.
It is up to the IRS to make the determination.
But by using improper criteria, the IRS targeted some groups, even though there were no indications that they engaged in significant political activities, the report said. Other non-tea party groups that had significant political activities were not screened, the report said.