House Report: Lerner 'Created Unprecedented Roadblocks for Tea Party Organizations'

Barbara Boland
By Barbara Boland | March 13, 2014 | 11:53 AM EDT

Congressional investigators have uncovered evidence Lois Lerner's actions as an IRS director "improperly reflected her political beliefs," a report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee says:

From her days at the Federal Election Commission, Lerner's left leaning politics were known and recognized. Even at a supposedly apolitical agency like the IRS, her views should not have been an obstacle to fair and impartial judgment that would impair her job performance. But amidst a scandal in which her agency deprived Americans of their Constitutional rights, a relevant question is whether the actions she took in her job improperly reflected her political beliefs. Congressional investigators found evidence that this occurred.

Lois Lerner "created unprecedented roadblocks for Tea Party organizations, worked surreptitiously to advance new Obama Administration regulations that curtail the activities of existing 501(c)(4) organizations - all the while attempting to maintain an appearance that her efforts did not appear, in her own words, 'per se political," according to the report.

Led by Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee released a 141-page report, reaching what The Washington Post dubbed "scathing conclusions" on Lerner's personal involvement in the politicization of the IRS.

With so many revelations of Lerner's direction of the IRS scandal, here are the four most shocking:

  • "Perhaps the FEC will save the day" for Democrats: One of Lerner's senior advisors e-mailed her an article with allegations that anonymous conservative donors were influencing Congressional races and the article claimed the outside money made it difficult for Democrats to maintain their majority in the Senate. Lerner replied: "Perhaps the FEC will save the day." She also expressed publicly her disapproval for the Citizens United decision: "The Supreme Court dealt a huge blow, overturning a 100-year old precedent that basically corporations couldn't give directly to political campaigns. And everyone is up in arms because they don't like it. The Federal Election Commission can't do anything about it. They want the IRS to fix the problem."
  • "Look at levels of lobbying and pol. activity along with exempt activity": In e-mails that begin with discussion of an article that says, "Organizations woven by the fabulously rich and hugely influential Koch brothers," Lerner told colleagues, "We do need a c4 project next year." While in an email she says, "my object is not to look for political activity," later in the exchange she acknowledges that it will examine political activity. "We need to be cautious so it isn't a per se political project. More a c4 project that will look at levels of lobbying and pol. activity along with exempt activity."
  • Tea Party applicants subject to unprecedented "Multi-Tier Review:" Lerner personally directed the IRS to put Tea Party applicants through a "multi-tier review." An IRS employee testified to the Committee that Lerner "sent [him an] e-mail saying that when these cases need to go through multi-tier review and they will eventually have to go to [Judy Kindell, Lerner's senior technical advisor] and the Chief Counsel's office" and a D.C. IRS employee said this level of scrutiny had no precedent.
  • Lerner has IRS blame applicants for special scrutiny:Despite her personal knowledge and activity in improper scrutiny of tea party applicants, Lerner still reviewed and signed off on a response to Congress that blamed applicants for heightened scrutiny. "[T]he IRS contacts the organization and solicits additional information when the organization does not provide sufficient information in response to the questions on the Form 1024 or if issues are raised by the application .... The revenue agent uses sound reasoning based on tax law training and his or her experience to review the application and identify the additional information needed to make a proper determination of the organization's exempt status."

The report doesn't pull any punches, concluding Lerner was "keenly aware" of the political targeting by the IRS:

Through e-mails, documents, and the testimony of other IRS officials, the Committee has learned a great deal about Lois Lerner's role in the IRS targeting scandal since the Committee first issued a subpoena for her testimony.

She was keenly aware of acute political pressure to crack down on conservative-leaning organizations. Not only did she seek to convey her agreement with this sentiment publicly, she went so far as to engage in a wholly inappropriate effort to circumvent federal prohibitions in order to publicize her efforts to crack down on a particular Tea Party applicant.