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Bessent: IRS owes answers for targeting conservative groups

The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political

The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said. (Credit: iStock)

IRS officials owe the nation more than a canned apology. It must provide honest answers about who is responsible for letting politics creep into it process.

The agency made a chilling admission Friday, acknowledging that the tax collectors singled out conservative political groups for unfair scrutiny between 2010 and 2012. An agency with privileged access to the intimate details of our financial lives simply cannot be allowed to abuse that power for partisan political purposes. Never. Period.

Apparently the IRS unit that oversees tax exempt groups flagged for additional screening organizations with the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax exempt status. That includes so-called 501(c)4 groups that are social welfare organizations but often engage in extensive hyper-partisan electioneering.

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Lois Lerner, the IRS official who oversees tax exempt groups, acknowledged the outrageous abuse and apologized. Her candor and contrition is a start, but we need to know a lot more. For instance, when did top IRS officials learn about what was going on, what did they do about it and when did they do it?

Over the weekend, the story only got worse. Lerner knew as early as 2011, according to a draft report by the agency's inspector general obtained by the Associated Press. The full report, a year in the making, will be made public in a few days.

Most importantly, were any of President Barack Obama’s political operatives or anyone in the White House involved?

So far, Lerner's story is that said career employees in the IRS’s Cincinati office where the work was being concentrated were responsible. They were wrong, but not politically motivated, she said. Hopefully that’s the case but Congress, or somebody outside the adminstration, needs to make sure.

Some 501(c)4 groups, both liberal and conservative, may abuse the tax exempt status by devoting more of their resources to partisan politics than the law allows. The IRS should keep an eye on them all to make sure they don’t. But the scrutiny can’t be based on their political views.

President Richard Nixon infamously used the IRS to punish people who landed on his enemies list. The nation must never go down that road again.

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