After Targeting Conservative Groups, IRS Apologizes

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On Friday, the IRS officer in charge of tax-exempt groups apologized for the agency's use of the terms "tea party" and "patriot" on paperwork as a reason for giving applicants additional scrutiny. Conservative groups say the admission validates their complaints from last year that they were being singled out by the Obama administration.


From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. After more than a year of denials by the IRS, a director at the agency apologized today for its targeting of Tea Party and patriot groups. As NPR's Peter Overby reports, the apology has reignited a political controversy.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Some Tea Party groups have long accused the IRS of going after them with unfair harshness. They said the agency was slow to grant them status as 501C4 social welfare organizations and had demanded extraordinary detail from them, such as a complete list of donors. Now, Lois Lerner, director of the IRS section on tax exempt organizations, says it's pretty much true.

LOIS LERNER: That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect. It was insensitive and it was inappropriate.

OVERBY: Lerner was speaking this morning at a conference of tax lawyers. Her explanation, tax exempt applications more than doubled between 2010 and 2012. All of the applications went to an office in Cincinnati, where employees called out 300 for further review. Most of those 300 applications had problems of some sort, but 75 simply had Tea Party or patriot in their names.

In a conference call with reporters, Lerner wouldn't say if any applications had been rejected. She said the process wasn't partisan, even if it looked that way.

LERNER: Not our job to decide who's the right political people and the wrong political people.

OVERBY: She said it all happened at low levels and administrators didn't know. Reaction to Lerner's statement was quick and fierce. Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots called it an illegal and outrageous abuse of government power. Republicans in Congress said they're expecting a report from the IRS inspector general and they vowed to dig into it deeper.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama expects a thorough investigation of the inappropriate actions. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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