Furious over revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups seeking nonprofit status, several Republicans are now demanding jail time for anyone involved in the scandal.
“Now my question isn’t about who is going to resign,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters. “My question is who’s going to jail over this scandal?”
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., told Fox News, “We’re not interested in retirements and forced ousters, we’re interested in people going to jail.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Whoever is responsible, whoever was complicit in the execution of this, those who participated in the cover-up, not only should they be fired, they should be prosecuted and thrown in jail. There is no way to defend this one. Using the IRS as a tool is just beyond reason.”
Twenty-nine House Republicans are co-sponsoring a bill by Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, that would make it a crime punishable by jail for IRS agents to launch politically motivated investigations.
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., called for incarceration as well.
“There is a tone of direction that the IRS has taken, which was reflected by the tone of this administration,” Gardner said. “This led these staffers to believe this is what was expected of them. This type of thuggish behavior is exactly what the administration wanted.”
On Friday, the IRS admitted it was singling out groups applying for tax-exempt status that used the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, but insisted that the reasoning had nothing to do with the politics or message of these groups. The IRS also claimed the incident was limited to a small cadre of low-level agents at a single location in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The IRS issued a rare apology, insisting that the agents made the decisions on their own initiative and that senior leaders had no idea this was going on.
However, the story quickly began to unravel as news reports indicated it was actually several offices that were involved in the targeting of conservative groups. It has been revealed that, contrary to initial claims, senior officials were apparently first advised of the efforts to single out groups critical of the president as early as 2011.
President Obama said he wasn’t made aware of the issue until Friday. At a Tuesday press conference, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said “categorically” no one in the White House had any idea the IRS was singling out these groups. When pressed for how he could know that, Carney admitted he could not know for sure, but based his statement on personal knowledge.
According to Fox News, an internal timeline by the inspector general’s office revealed the IRS began looking at tea party and “patriot” groups as early as 2010, shortly after Obamacare was passed.
However, in 2011 the organizations scrutinized were expanded to include groups focused on government debt and spending, taxes and education on “ways to make America a better place to live” as well as those who criticized “how the country is being run.”
In early 2012, the IRS expanded the list even further to include groups that were educating people on the Constitution and Bill of Rights and involved in limiting/expanding government.
Gardner told WND that among the multiple conservative groups targeted by the IRS was at least one group from Colorado.
The group, which is asking that its name be kept private for now, applied for 501(c)(4) status and had its application illegally released to the public during the application process, which is a clear violation of federal law.
“The information on their application was confidential and the IRS was required by law to treat it as such, yet that information was leaked to ProPublica,” Gardner said. “Who’s to say the IRS didn’t give out confidential donor information either? This confirms people’s worst beliefs about government overbearance.”
The organization lists itself as being a center-right organization providing research and information to the public on policy issues, government behavior, voting records and legislation. During their application process, the group was sent a letter by the IRS asking for detailed personal information regarding its activities. Gardner’s office released a copy of the letter, which revealed that among other things the IRS demanded to know, under penalty of perjury:
- Copies of all research and informational materials distributed to the public
- A list of who in the organization conducts these activities and how and where they distribute the findings.
- A list of all outside organizations and “partners” they work or contract with to conduct research activities.
- A list of the meetings, conventions, promotional tours, media interviews and similar events they have participated in and/or conducted.
- Provide copies of the material distributed at events
- Provide copies of transcripts when talking with the media
- Provide a list of all media interviews conducted by anybody regarding the organization as well as a description of the purpose of the interview.
In addition, the organization was told it would need to provide copies of all educational training materials as well as who they target during their training sessions and when they take place.
Gardner promises confidentiality to any group that contacts his office with allegations of being targeted by the IRS for political reasons, unless the group specifies otherwise.
“I am making my office available to any group that has been wrongly targeted by the IRS,” he said. “We are here to help in any way that we can.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., has said constituents in his district are also encouraged to contact his office if they feel they have been unfairly targeted by the IRS.
“It is important to understand how such a practice came about and who authorized its implementation,” Lamborn said. “Were you or your organization the victim of these inappropriate and illegal IRS activities? I encourage you to share your experience with my district staff. I appreciate your help in this matter and vow to hold those accountable within the government who acted inappropriately, or even illegally.”
While the revelations have evoked outcries from both the political left and right, some critics have attempted to temper the issue by saying that while the allegations are serious, no one was hurt by the requests and no conservative groups had their applications denied.
However, the argument fails to take into account groups that simply gave up because the detailed requests would require an overwhelming number of man hours and resources. The recently released inspector general report on the issue noted that while none of the nearly 300 applications were denied, some applicants stopped trying.
In a possible attempt to downplay the importance of the issue, CNN reported that acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller said the entire event was the fault of two “rogue” employees who were “off the reservation.” Miller claimed the two individuals had already been disciplined for their actions.
However, Gardner said if Miller thinks his statement will put an end to the controversy, he is sadly mistaken.
“This is not a matter of whether people get fired or not. It’s a question of how long they spend in jail. I do believe you are looking at jail time and heads rolling as they should.”
He went on to say Congress will continue to aggressively investigate to find out why the IRS lied to lawmakers.
“The IRS lied to Congress,” Gardner said. “Somebody knew this was going on, yet they reassured us there was no targeting of conservative groups. Harry Truman had a sign on his desk that said, ‘The buck stops here.’ We need to find out where the hell the buck stops with this administration.”
While it might be easy to point to fingers solely at individual IRS agents, Gardner said another issue to look at is the part Congress may have played in putting pressure on the IRS to investigate conservative groups.
“We need to look into whether members of Congress encouraged this type of discrimination against people based on their philosophical thought,” he said. “I think this investigation will be the type where no stone is left unturned. This is a sickening episode where the government was acting far beyond its constitutional authority.”
USA Today backed up Gardner’s concerns that the IRS may not be entirely to blame for the targeting of groups opposed to the Obama administration.
“The same Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (Montana Sen. Max Baucus) who this week is calling for hearings into IRS activities, specifically called on the IRS to engage in that very conduct back in 2010. And he wasn’t the only one. Just last year, a group of seven Senate Democrats sent another letter to the IRS urging them to similarly investigate these outside political organizations.
“From Max Baucus to Chuck Schumer to Jeanne Shaheen, key Senate Democrats publicly pressured the IRS to target groups that held differing political views and who, in their view, had the temerity to engage in the political process. The IRS listened to them and acted. And other Democrat senators like Kay Hagan and Mark Pryor said and did nothing about it.”
Gardner said the whole episode proves Americans should not have any faith in government when it comes to their health care. Under Obamacare, the IRS will in charge of verifying individuals have obtained health-care coverage that is acceptable to the federal government.
“I think this is a clear indicator that we cannot trust the government, especially the IRS with information regarding our health care,” Gardner said. “You have an administration that thinks it can control guns and then gives us Fast & Furious. Then it believes it can administer and give us all health care, but now we find out the IRS cannot even manage nonprofit organizations.”