By Corey Mitchell and Rachel Stassen-Berger
U.S. Sen. Al Franken and six Democratic colleagues in the Senate penned letters to former Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman in February 2012, asking whether the IRS intended to investigate social welfare organizations "engaged in a substantial or even a predominant amount of campaign activity."
"We urge you to protect the legitimate section 501(c)(4) entities by preventing non-conforming organizations that are focused on federal election activities from abusing the tax code," the Feburary letter read, in part.
The letter sent to Shulman in March had a more stern tone and recommendations for cracking down on "questionable practices."
"We urge the IRS to take ... steps immediately to prevent abuse of the tax code by political groups focused on federal election activities. But if the IRS is unable to issue administrative guidance in this area then we plan to introduce legislation to accomplish these important changes," the March letter read, in part.
In the wake of the IRS admission that staff targeted dozens of tea party and conservative groups for extra scrutiny during the tax-exempt status application process, Republicans in Washington, D.C., and Minnesota have tried to pin blame on the Democratic senators.
On Thursday, Republican Minnesota Sen. Julianne Ortman criticized Franken, saying the letter contributed to a culture in Washington that allowed the targeting.
During an appearance on CNN on Monday, Sen. Franken called for a "non-partisan" inquiry into all 501(c)(4) groups.
Last year's letters -- signed by Franken, Chuck Schumer of New York and several others -- do not request that the IRS specifically target tea party or conservative groups. It was also sent more than a year after the IRS began targeting the groups.
Here's a link to the March letter from Schumer's website.
Here's a copy of the February letter:
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and 44 freshmen House Democrats wrote a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner on Thursday requesting an up-or-down vote on the fate of the sequester, the $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts.
The cuts went into effect on March 1 after President Obama and Congress could not agree on a deficit reduction plan.
The Democrats sent the letter to Boehner on the same day that House Republicans approved U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's bill calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's health care overhaul law.
"This week, the House will vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which it has already done thirty-six times. Your justification for another unnecessary repeal vote has been that it allows freshmen members their first formal opportunity to let their constituents know where they stand on the repeal. However, you have not allowed freshmen the same opportunity to vote on a balanced alternative to replace sequestration," the letter read in part.
"With the sequester's negative impact already taking its toll, we ask that you move quickly to schedule these votes. All of us are ready to come to the Floor and make our constituents' voices heard with regard to sequestration and its potential to harm our economic recovery and our national security."
Nolan signed the letter with House Democratic freshmen, but he previously served three terms in Congress from 1975 to 1981.
Here's a copy of the letter:
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann says the IRS targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups that sought tax-exempt status during the 2012 election cycle is "far worse" than the Watergate scandal of the Nixon presidency.
During a press conference Thursday on Capitol Hill, Bachmann and other tea party leaders demanded a thorough investigation of the IRS and the Obama administration's possible role in the controversy, which led the president to dismiss acting director Steven Miller; his resignation is effective next month.
"We haven't even scratched the surface, we haven't even begun," said Bachmann, chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus and a former IRS attorney.
Second later she said: "This is far worse than Watergate ... These are direct actions taken against American citizens who sought to exercise their free speech rights under the First Amendment."
Last week, the IRS admitted singling out groups with the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their 501(c)(4) applications required for groups that want to operate as social welfare organizations.
Leaders with the Rochester Tea Party Patriots in southern Minnesota said this week it took the IRS more than two years to approve their tax-exempt status.
The IRS has said that roughly 75 groups were targeted during an 18-month period that ended in summer 2012. But officials with another Minnesota group, Minnesota Majority, said they were targeted for extra scrutiny this spring.
"Progressive liberal groups in line with the administration were fast-tracked ... where the Tea Party groups were told to sit in the corner and on the curb and they were denied or delayed," Bachmann said.
Not all conservative groups were targeted. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said that the American Action Network, a group led by former Minnesota U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, had their application approved in less than six weeks. The group raised more than $22 million during the last election cycle.
The IRS did not deny tax-exempt status to any of the tea party organizations seeking tax-exempt status, but more than two dozen agencies withdrew their applications after receiving extra scrutiny, officials said.
Flanked by leaders of more than a dozen tea party groups from across the country, Bachmann said that many organizations couldn't take contributions last election cycle because their applications were intentionally stalled.
"The IRS essentially was withholding the ability" of the Tea Party movement to have a voice, she said.
"We don't know how much impact that had on the outcome of the last election, but we aim to find out."
On Friday, Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, will participate in the first hearing on the IRS matter when the panel questions Miller and the Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah will join U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann this morning at a press conference on Capitol Hill to discuss the Internal Revenue Service targeting of tea party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Bachmann, chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus, has called the targeting "outrageous" and a "stunning abuse of power."
The tax scandal has served as a rallying point for the tea party, which began in 2009 as an anti-tax movement, but lost steam during the last election cycle. Tea party leaders from across the country and more than 20 Republican House members also plan to attend the event.
IRS leaders issued an apology last week for singling out organizations with the words "tea party" and "patriot" in their applications for extra scrutiny, stalling the approval process.
With political pressure mounting, President Obama announced Thursday that acting director Steven T. Miller will leave the tax agency next month.
The tax scandal has served as a rallying point for the tea party, which began in 2009 as an anti-tax moment, but lost steam during the last election cycle.
With the Internal Revenue Service reeling after revealing it intentionally targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison says the agency and Congress should "get more engaged, not less" on campaign finance.
Targeting groups based on their politics is wrong; all groups, liberal and conservative, should be scrutinized, Ellison said Monday during an appearance on MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes."
The IRS has often failed to draw lines of distinction between "social welfare" non-profits and political groups, he said.
"We need Congress to act to say that we're going to scrutinize all groups that are electioneering when they really should be doing social welfare," Ellison said. "The thing I fear ... is that the IRS will be backed off. The IRS should get more engaged, not less ... We need to redouble our efforts to bring real campaign finance forward."
On Friday, the IRS apologized for singling out conservative and tea party groups for extra scrutiny during the 2012 election cycle, originally blaming the problem on low-level functionaries in their Cincinnati office. The scandal has now ensnared the former and acting directors, who repeatedly denied the targeting.
Reform groups and some congressional Democrats, Ellison among them, have urged the IRS to investigate the tax-exempt social welfare organizations that reel in hundreds of millions of dollars in anonymous donations. The groups spent at least a quarter of a billion dollars on political activities during the last election cycle, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics.
Reform supporters now fear that the IRS will cave and abdicate its oversight role, allowing all the organizations to go unchecked.
"There are clearly flagrant misuses of the term social welfare," Ellison said. "This needs to be reined in. Congress should move forward to do it, on a fair basis, not back off."