U.S. News: IRS Targets Tea Party

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
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In 2013, the IRS got audited and it wasn't pretty.

irs targets tea party

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In 2013, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) admitted that it had inappropriately targeted and scrutinized political groups applying for tax-exempt status. At first it was reported that the agency had only targeted conservative groups, including groups with "Tea Party" in its name. However, it was later revealed that some liberal groups, such as those associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, were also targeted, although to a lesser extent. While none of these groups were denied tax-exempt status, their applications were delayed indefinitely. The scandal made national headlines in 2013, causing public and political scrutiny for the IRS.

The IRS Gets Audited

In early May 2013, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration provided an audit report of the IRS. According to the audit, the IRS had inappropriately targeted political organizations, including groups with Tea Party in its name. The situation grew worse when Lois Lerner, Director of the Exempt Organizations in the IRS, answered a planted question by saying that the IRS was "apologetic" for "absolutely inappropriate" actions. She then went on to say that the targeting had been done by lower-level people in the Cincinnati branch of the IRS. However, it was soon revealed by the media, that two other regional IRS offices had been involved and that the targeted applications had been overseen by a group in Washington D.C., at the main branch of the IRS. In fact, according to the Treasury Inspector General's report, Lerner had been present at a meeting on the targeting on June 29, 2011.

On May 12, 2013, Congressional Republicans and Democrats asked that the IRS be fully investigated. Two days later, when the Inspector General's audit went public, President Obama released a statement which said, "The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test. I’ve directed Secretary Lew to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the Inspector General’s recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again. But regardless of how this conduct was allowed to take place, the bottom line is, it was wrong." Soon after, the Justice Department began a full investigation of the IRS, including whether or not the targeting activities were criminal. Congress conducted its own investigation as well.


During its investigation, Congress called for Acting Commissioner of the IRS, Steven T. Miller as well as Lois Lerner to resign. Miller resigned on May 15, 2013. However, Lerner refused to resign. She was put on administrative leave and retired on September 23, 2013. Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division Commissioner Joseph H. Grant also retired soon after the scandal broke.

A Wall Street Journal / NBC News poll conducted in late May showed that 55% of Americans believed that the IRS scandal raised questions about the honesty and integrity within the Obama administration. Only 10% of the people polled expressed confidence in the IRS and 33% blamed Obama directly for the incident.

On June 24, 2013, Danny Werfel, who replaced Miller as IRS commissioner, reported that the agency had completed its own internal investigation. That investigation, Werfel said, uncovered that the targeting had lasted longer and was wider than previously believed. It also found that the targeting also included progressive groups that had words such as "occupy," "progressive" and "Israel" in their names. Also, the targeting went on for two years, between April 2010 and April 2012. The fallout of the 2013 IRS scandal was summed up best in the final conclusion of the Treasury Inspector General's published audit: "Although the IRS has taken some action, it will need to do more so that the public has reasonable assurance that applications are processed without unreasonable delay in a fair and impartial manner in the future."

by Jennie Wood
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