Minnesota Poll: When assigning blame for the extra rigor the agency used in vetting conservative nonprofits, respondents divided along party lines.
Lois Lerner, head of the IRS unit that decides whether to grant tax-exempt status to groups, listens on Capitol Hill Wednesday at the start of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing to investigate the extra scrutiny the IRS gave to Tea Party and other conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status.
WASHINGTON – Targeting of conservative political groups by the Internal Revenue Service has Minnesotans split on whether the practice was intentional, a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found.
Two thirds of Minnesotans say the IRS was wrong to apply extra scrutiny when determining whether to grant nonprofit status to Tea Party and other conservative groups. But when asked who was to blame, poll responses split largely along party lines.
About 47 percent of respondents, including three-fourths of Democrats, think the IRS acted on its own in investigating the conservative groups.
“There’s a lot of blame game going on,” said Kevin Krenzke, 48, a Democrat from Rochester. But, he said, critics can’t prove the Obama administration orchestrated the targeting, “or they would have done it already.” President Obama, he said, “is not at fault for any of this.”
Nearly a third of respondents, including 61 percent of Republicans, believe the Obama administration was involved.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” said Daniel Kerr, 45, a Minneapolis Republican.
The poll interviewed 800 Minnesota adults between June 11-13, by land line and cellphone, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
A full two-thirds of those polled said the IRS actions were inappropriate, compared to 22 percent who said the scrutiny was justified. The partisan divide was deep: 46 percent of Democrats deemed the targeting appropriate. Only 2 percent of Republicans and 14 percent of independents shared that view.
“I don’t think any group should get that status,” said Sue Frauenkron, 59, an independent from Houston. Those seeking nonprofit status should expect to be investigated, she said.
A majority also say the Obama administration should be more forthcoming about the targeting scandal. A little more than half say the White House is hiding some information. Four out of five Republicans say the administration is trying to cover up facts.
Kerr, who counts himself in that second group, says he’s convinced that “you’ll never be able to prove it. There’s going be no memo from the president or anything.”
Cities and the suburbs
The demographic divide is nearly as stark as the partisan split. Compared with residents of Hennepin and Ramsey counties, twice as many who live in the metro suburbs, percentage-wise, said they were likely to believe the White House has something to hide.
Ron Erickson, 69, of Bloomington, was a Republican until 2010, but now describes himself as an independent. He said targeting conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status was a poor decision, but was not politically motivated.
“It was not something caused by any political party,” said Erickson, who dropped his ties to the Republican Party once the Tea Party emerged.
“I do not believe that the president himself knew anything about it.”
About a fourth of respondents remain uncertain.
“I can’t say for certain that there was an intent to infiltrate or discredit,” said Dan Horsp, 65, a Republican from South St. Paul.
The White House has acknowledged that senior officials were aware of an inspector general’s report on the improper targeting weeks before it was revealed, but opted not to tell Obama.
Said Erickson, the Bloomington independent: “Most people do not trust government. But, let’s face it, the guy at the top is not going to get blamed.”
Lawmakers have been pressing for answers for weeks as to when senior officials at the Treasury Department and White House first learned about the IRS’ activities and what they did to stop it.
The acting commissioner has resigned and the head of the IRS office that improperly targeted the conservative groups has been replaced.
Republican Violet Dorumsgaard, 73, of New Brighton, said Obama took action on the IRS scandal only because “the Republicans got after him.”
She said the administration’s fumbling of this scandal and others has shaken her trust in government, especially the White House. In addition to the IRS controversy, the Justice Department’s seizure of reporters’ phone records and top secret surveillance programs have kept the White House on their heels for more than a month.
Some Minnesotans are wearying of the seemingly perpetual swirl of controversies in Washington.
“There’s so much evidence of people pointing fingers to this direction or that direction and nothing ever seems to come of it,” said Horsp, the South St. Paul Republican.
Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. • Twitter: @C_C_Mitchell