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IRS casts wide net in targeting

  • Article by: ALAN FRAM
  • Associated Press
  • June 24, 2013 - 10:11 PM

– The Internal Revenue Service’s screening of groups seeking tax-exempt ­status was broader and lasted longer than has been previously disclosed, the new head of the agency acknowledged Monday. Terms including “Israel,” “Progressive” and “Occupy” were used by agency workers to help pick groups for closer examination, according to an internal IRS document obtained by the Associated Press.

The IRS has been under fire since last month after admitting it targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups that wanted the tax-exempt ­designation for tough examinations. While investigators have said that agency screening for those groups had stopped in May 2012, Monday’s revelations made it clear that screening for other kinds of organizations continued until earlier this month, when the agency’s new chief, Danny Werfel, said he discovered it and ordered it halted.

The IRS document said an investigation into why specific terms were included was still underway. It blamed the continued use of inappropriate criteria by screeners on “a lapse in judgment” by the agency’s former top officials. The document did not name the officials, but many top leaders have been replaced.

Neither the IRS document obtained by the AP or a separate IRS list of terms that ­workers searched for, released by House Democrats, addressed how many progressive groups received close scrutiny or how the agency treated their requests. ­Dozens of conservative groups saw their applications experience lengthy delays, and they received unusually intrusive questions about their donors and other details that agency officials have conceded were inappropriate.

In a conference call with reporters, Werfel said that after becoming acting IRS chief last month, he discovered varied and improper terms on the lists and said screeners were still using them. He did not specify what terms were on the lists, but said he suspended the use of all such lists immediately.

“There was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum” on the lists, Werfel said. He added that his aides found those lists contained “inappropriate ­criteria that was in use.”

Werfel ordered a halt in the use of spreadsheets listing the terms — called BOLO lists for “be on the lookout for — on June 12 and formalized their suspension with a June 20 written order, according to the IRS document the AP obtained. Investigators have previously said that the lists evolved over time as screeners found new names and phrases to help them identify groups to ­examine.

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released one of the lists, dated November 2010, that the IRS has provided to congressional investigators. That 16-page document shows that the terms “Progressive” and “Tea Party” were both on that list, as well as “Medical Marijuana,” “occupied territory advocacy” and “Healthcare legislation.”

Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Ways and Means panel, said he was writing a letter to J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general whose audit in May detailed IRS ­targeting of conservatives, asking why his report did not mention other groups that were ­targeted.

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