The White House and the Internal Revenue Service have apologized for the extra scrutiny of conservative political groups by the IRS during the 2012 presidential election, but "their apology is not accepted,” one tea party leader said Friday.
“What we've long suspected to be the case is now confirmed to be true,” said Niger Innis, chief strategist for TheTeaParty.net. “The Obama administration has used the IRS as a political weapon.
“The IRS may claim that it is ‘sorry,’” Innis continued in a statement. “But given the damage that has been done, their apology is not accepted.”
Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, told ABC News that “President Obama must also apologize for his administration ignoring repeated complaints by these broad grassroots organizations of harassment by the IRS in 2012, and make concrete and transparent steps today to ensure this never happens again.”
Tea Party Express founder Sal Russo told ABC that his group, formed as a PAC, never heard from the IRS but did hear from smaller Tea Party groups that complained of government scrutiny.
“On our bus tours, the local Tea Party groups were all screaming about it,” Russo told ABC. “It was so pronounced around the country that it was obvious that the tea party groups were being targeted.
“Not unlike any bureaucracy, the first reaction is to deny everything even when they don't know the facts," Russo said, adding that he was “glad they finally acknowledged what was obvious to everyone else.”
“We appreciate that the IRS acknowledged and apologized, but the real question is, how do we make sure that this never happens again?” asked Jackie Bodnar, spokeswoman for the tax-exempt tea-party group FreedomWorks. “All Americans, regardless of their philosophical beliefs, should be treated equally under the laws of the land.”
Earlier on Friday, Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, said that the agency singled out groups with the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their applications for tax-exempt status.
In some cases, groups were asked for their donor lists, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.
About 75 applications for tax-exempt status containing the words were added to 225 other applications that were singled out for additional scrutiny, Lerner said.
So far, none of the applications have been rejected, although some have been withdrawn, ABC reports.
“That was wrong,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That's not how we go about selecting cases for further review.
“The IRS would like to apologize for that,” Lerner added.
She said that lower-level workers — not top IRS officials — in Cincinnati initiated the practice and that it was not motivated by political bias.
Throughout the election, many conservative groups complained that they were being harassed by the IRS. They accused the agency of frustrating their attempts to become tax exempt by — among other things — sending them lengthy, intrusive questionnaires.
Meanwhile, at the White House Friday afternoon, Jay Carney, the Obama administration spokesman, called the IRS’ actions "inappropriate."
“We've certainly seen those reports,” he said. “My understanding is this matter is under investigation by the IG [inspector general] at the IRS.”
Carney added that the IRS was an independent agency with only two political appointees.
“The fact of the matter is what we know about this is of concern, and we certainly find the actions taken as reported to be inappropriate, and we would fully expect the investigation to be thorough and for corrections to be made," Carney said.
Carney pointed out that the IRS commissioner in 2012, Douglas Shulman, was appointed by President George W. Bush.
But these apologies did not satisfy Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called on President Barack Obama to review his administration for politicization.
“Today, I call on the White House to conduct a transparent, government-wide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not underway at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views," McConnell said in a statement published by ABC.
House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor joined California Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in promising a widespread investigation of the matter.
“Today, we are left with serious questions: Who is ultimately responsible for this travesty?” Boehner said in a statement. “What actions will the Obama administration take to hold them accountable? And have other federal agencies used government powers to attack Americans for partisan reasons?”
And Cantor declared: “The IRS cannot target or intimidate any individual or organization based on their political beliefs. The House will investigate this matter.”
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