Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today released the following statement on false reports claiming that his office was somehow involved in IRS targeting of conservative groups:
“A recent press release by Judicial Watch sparked a series of online reports falsely claiming that my office was somehow involved in the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups – reports that are demonstrably untrue and totally contradicted by my all of my actions over the past several years on this issue.
“These reports ignore the fact that I released a 37-page dissenting report last September refuting the Democrats’ Majority Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) report claiming the IRS showed no bias against conservative groups. Media coverage at the time noted that I was in total disagreement with Senate Democrats on the issue of whether the IRS targeted conservative groups (see The Associated Press article below headlined “Competing views on IRS treatment of tea party”).
“At that time, I released this statement along with my dissenting report:
- ‘The Majority’s interpretation of the evidence fails to capture the extent of the IRS’s bias against conservative groups and flagrant abuse of power. Our tax system should not -- and cannot -- be used as a weapon to target political opponents, as the IRS has clearly done, especially when that agency is, at times, tasked with administering laws that involve political free speech. This troubling scandal raises serious concern about the integrity of our nation’s tax collectors and requires further investigation as damaging facts continue to come to light.’
“Starting in March 2012, almost a year before I assumed the role of Ranking Member of PSI, then-PSI Chairman Senator Carl Levin sent a series of letters to the IRS inquiring about the process for reviewing 501(c)4 ‘social welfare’ organizations and alleging that some were engaging in political activities not permitted under that tax-exempt status. I did not sign onto any of those letters, both before and after I took over as Ranking Member of PSI in January 2013.
“As Chairman of PSI, Senator Levin initiated an investigation of IRS practices and policies related to tax-exempt organizations. Consistent with longtime PSI practices, interviews conducted in the course of this review, including the one with IRS Office of Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner in April 2013, were attended by both Levin and McCain PSI staff, to ensure that both Republican and Democrat staff had equal access to witnesses and relevant information.
“After the extent of IRS targeting of conservative groups was revealed, I called for Lois Lerner to be fired. And in a joint letter with Senator Levin calling for Ms. Lerner’s removal, we made clear that in her interview with PSI staff a month earlier, Ms. Lerner failed to disclose any information regarding the internal IRS controversy over inappropriate targeting of conservative groups, a serious failure to disclose important information to Congress. In the letter, we wrote:
- ‘On April 30, 2013, Ms. Lerner and seven IRS colleagues spent six-hours being interviewed, on a bipartisan basis, by Subcommittee staff. That interview covered, among other topics, how the IRS determines which groups to review, what actions are taken in connection with the IRS reviews, and how the laws and regulations are used to examine those groups. Ms. Lerner failed to disclose the internal controversy over the search terms used by the Cincinnati office to identify 501(c)(4) groups for further review, the actions taken by that office in reviewing the identified groups, the investigation and imminent findings by the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA); and TIGTA’s conclusion that the IRS had used inappropriate criteria to target Tea Party and other conservative groups. Ms. Lerner also failed to disclose that she was fully aware of these issues as early as June 2011, and, according to TIGTA, had been personally involved in reviewing questionable actions taken by the Cincinnati office. Given the serious failure by Ms. Lerner to disclose to this Subcommittee key information on topics that the Subcommittee was investigating, we have lost confidence in her ability to fulfill her duties as Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS. Ms. Lerner’s continued tenure in the office she holds, where she is responsible for overseeing 1.6 million tax-exempt organizations, would erode public trust and confidence in the IRS and its professional integrity. We believe that the immediate removal of Ms. Lerner from office would be a vital step in helping to restore public trust in the agency.’
“In 2014, Senator Levin released his Democratic Majority PSI report arguing that the IRS’s actions were not politically motivated, and that ‘management failures’ explained the inappropriate actions taken by employees of the IRS.
“I refused to sign onto that report, and instead issued my own 37-page rebuttal, entitled “IRS Targeting Tea Party Groups,” detailing how the information gathered during the PSI investigation showed that the IRS frequently and pervasively targeted conservative organizations, especially tea party groups. Findings of the McCain dissenting report included:
- “The IRS used inappropriate criteria to target specific conservative groups for increased scrutiny and delay.
- “Vast distinctions existed in the IRS’s treatment of liberal and conservative groups and conservative groups received the bulk of unfair and burdensome treatment.
- “The IRS focused on a group’s name or policy positions instead of the group’s potential political activities, resulting in bias and the disparate treatment of conservative groups.
- “The Treasury Department Inspector General’s conclusion regarding the inappropriate treatment of conservative groups by the IRS were correct and supported by the statistics.
“Like so many Americans, I was shocked and appalled by revelations that the IRS inappropriately singled out conservative groups for scrutiny, and that our tax system was used to target political opponents.
“As Ranking Member of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, I devoted significant time and resources to help get to the bottom of this disturbing abuse of power by the IRS. Any article suggesting otherwise is simply wrong, and ignores the facts of my actions over the last several years.”
The Associated Press
September 5, 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) — After investigating the IRS for more than a year, two key senators — a Democrat and a Republican — disagree on whether the tax agency treated conservative groups worse than their liberal counterparts when they applied for tax-exempt status.
The Senate's subcommittee on investigations released competing reports Friday on how the IRS handled applications from political groups during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
The Democratic report, released by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, said both liberal and conservative groups were mistreated, revealing no political bias by the IRS.
"The investigation found that the IRS used inappropriate selection criteria, burdensome questions and lengthy delays in processing applications for 501(c)(4) tax exempt status from both conservative and liberal groups," Levin said in a statement.
The Republican report, issued by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said conservative groups were clearly treated worse.
"The majority's interpretation of the evidence fails to capture the extent of the IRS's bias against conservative groups and flagrant abuse of power," McCain said in a statement. "Our tax system should not and cannot be used as a weapon to target political opponents, as the IRS has clearly done."
The IRS inspector general set off a firestorm last year with an audit that said IRS agents singled out tea party and other conservative groups for inappropriate scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.
IRS agents were reviewing applications for tax-exempt status to determine how much political activity each group was engaged in. Under IRS regulations, tax-exempt social welfare groups can engage in politics, but it cannot be their primary mission.
President Barack Obama forced the acting IRS commissioner to resign, and much of the agency's top leadership has been replaced. The Justice Department and several committees in Congress launched investigations.
Friday's reports mark the conclusion of just one investigation. The Justice Department and three other congressional committees are continuing their probes.
Levin is chairman of the investigations subcommittee and McCain is the ranking Republican. Their staffs routinely work together on investigations, and while they don't always agree on the results, it is highly unusual for them to issue such diverging reports.
The Democratic report slams last year's audit by the IRS inspector general. It says the IG report was incomplete because it focused only on the treatment of conservative groups. The IG's report "produced distorted audit results that continue to be misinterpreted," the Democratic report said.
The inspector general's office declined to comment Friday. A spokeswoman said they were reviewing the report.
The Republican report says far more conservative groups were singled out for extra scrutiny. They were also asked more questions and were more likely to have their applications rejected or withdrawn.
"The IRS selected conservative groups out of normal processing, placed them on a separate list, stopped work on their applications completely, forced them to answer intrusive questions about their behavior and demeanor at meetings and delayed their applications for multiple years," the Republican report said. "Our investigation has uncovered no evidence that liberal groups received the same expansive inappropriate treatment that conservative groups received."
The Democratic report said investigators reviewed 800,000 pages of documents and conducted 22 interviews with current and former workers at the IRS and the inspector general's office. The investigators, however, were not allowed to see confidential taxpayer information, so many of the documents were blacked out.
Only two committees in Congress have the authority to see confidential taxpayer information: the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. Those two committees are continuing their probes.