The IRS Tea Party Scandal, Explained
The IRS gave extra scrutiny to 298 groups applying for tax-exempt status, the Washington Post reported. Seventy-two of those groups had “tea party” in their title, 13 had “patriots,” and 11 had “9/12,” shorthand for the 9/12 movement started by conservative TV host Glenn Beck.
But IRS officials not only singled out tea party and liberty groups. They also looked for “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement,” according to the leaked timeline. This included groups that planned to focus on government debt and spending, taxes, or those trying to “make America a better place to live.” In June 2011, Lerner reportedly became aware of what was going on and directed staffers to change to how they vetted nonprofit applications.
By the spring of 2012, so many conservative groups had complained about the IRS harassing them that Republicans in Congress took notice. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) sent the IRS a letter asking why it was targeting tea partiers, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) held a hearing in which he grilled then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, a George W. Bush appointee, over the agency’s treatment of conservative groups. Shulman denied that his agency was targeting conservatives, and the controversy remained quiet until Lerner’s apology.