The Internal Revenue Service Thursday expressed its “sincere apology” for the Obama administration’s targeting of tea party, conservative and Christian organizations in 2012 when Barack Obama was seeking re-election.
“For such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology,” the agency said in a proposed consent order to resolve a number of lawsuits against the government brought by the injured organizations.
The IRS division that processed applications for tax-exempt status admitted it deliberately delayed action on groups that opposed Obama during the 2012 election campaign.
Many of the groups objected to Obama’s far-left agenda, which included state-controlled health care, abortion and same-sex marriage.
A report in the Washington Times cited a $3.5 million payout to the tea party groups, although that was not mentioned in the initial proposed consent agreement.
And the report said there remain a few cases that still are unresolved.
The consent order identifies Lois Lerner, the former director of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Unit, as at fault for allowing the problem to fester.
“The then-director of the EO Division, Lois Lerner, first became aware that the IRS received applications from Tea Party groups as early as April or May 2010. For the next two years, Lerner failed to adequately manage the EO Division employees who processed these applications. Moreover, Lerner failed to inform upper level IRS management of the serious delays in processing applications for tax-exempt status from Tea Party and other political sensitive groups,” the order states.
Dozens of the conservative groups that brought complaints were represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, which issued a statement Thursday.
“We have just obtained a resounding victory in our legal challenge to the IRS’s political targeting of conservative organizations,” it said. “In an unprecedented victorious conclusion to our years-long legal battle against the IRS, the bureaucratic agency has just admitted in federal court that it wrongfully targeted tea party and conservative groups during the Obama administration and issued an apology to our clients for doing so.
“In addition, the IRS is consenting to a court order that would prohibit it from ever engaging in this form of unconstitutional discrimination in the future.”
In the order, the IRS “admits that its treatment of plaintiffs during the tax-exempt determinations process, including screening their applications based on their names or policy positions, subjecting those applications to heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays, and demanding of some plaintiffs’ information that TIGTA determined was unnecessary to the agency’s determination of their tax-exempt status, was wrong.”
ACLJ said that upon “approval by the court, entry of the order will mark the end of a four-year legal battle initiated by the ACLJ on behalf of 41 conservative organizations targeted by the IRS for their political viewpoints.”
The consent order, ACLJ said, “represents a historic victory for our clients and sends the unequivocal message that a government agency’s targeting of conservative organizations, or any organization, on the basis of political viewpoints, will never be tolerated. This order will put an end, once and for all, to the abhorrent practices utilized against our clients, as the agreement includes the IRS’s express acknowledgment of – and apology for – its wrongful treatment of our clients.”
“While this agreement is designed to prevent any such practices from occurring again, rest assured that we will remain vigilant to ensure that the IRS does not resort to such tactics in the future.”
The attack on conservative groups became apparent early in 2012 when ACLJ was contacted by “literally dozens of tea party and conservative groups who were being harassed by the Obama IRS after submitting applications for tax-exempt status.”
While Lerner publicly admitted the targeting campaign was going on, no action was taken against her, and she ultimately left the government on a retirement plan while lawsuits were under way.
The IRS used tactics such as demanding donor lists, copies of communications, Internet passwords, and personal political and charitable activities of officers and their family members.
In one case, the IRS demanded to know the subject of group members’ prayers. And in another, the IRS demanded that members stop opposing the Planned Parenthood abortion industry.
The case was dismissed at one point but revived by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which found the IRS had failed to provide sufficient evidence demonstrating that either the targeting scheme, or its effects on the organizations, had ended.
ACLJ said its discovery process revealed the Obama administration set up a system to “snare targeted organizations’ tax exemption applications to limit their impact during the 2012 elections.”
Crucially, the agreement has the IRS admit “it targeted conservative and tea party groups based on their viewpoints (i.e., ‘policy positions’) and that such viewpoint discrimination violates fundamental First Amendment rights,” ACLJ said.
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of this victory. This marks the end of a years-long fight for justice in defense of the constitutional rights of our clients. This is an extraordinary victory against the IRS. And it sends a powerful warning to the deep state bureaucracy that it will not be allowed to violate the Constitution,” ACLJ said.
The Washington Times reported the IRS agreed to “settlements” with the organizations, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the IRS owed the groups an apology after years of poor treatment and refusing to concede bad behavior. He placed blame on “the last administration,” the report said.
About 450 groups were involved in lawsuits against the IRS.
The Obama administration actually had praised Lerner, claiming she tried to stop the targeting. Tea party groups, however, repeatedly have contended she should have face criminal charges.
WND reported several months ago that the legal logjam was breaking up, with lawsuits reaching settlements.
ACLJ said the Obama administration had “orchestrated a complex scheme to dump conservative and tea party nonprofit applicants into a bureaucratic ‘black hole.'”
The conspiracy to delay the conservative groups’ application for tax-exempt status, hindering their ability to raise funds, likely came from the top, ACLJ said.
The Obama administration had described the scandal as “phony.”
WND reported another such victory when, after seven years, the Tri-Cities Tea Party obtained tax-exempt status.
While the IRS targeting scandal was just one of several dozen major controversies to plague the Obama administration, it was one of the more egregious, as the official weight of government power bludgeoned activist groups that wanted to participate in the political process.
Judicial Watch, the Washington watchdog that has for years been fighting to access IRS documents revealing the extent of its discriminatory actions against Christians and conservatives, has asked President Trump to consider criminal counts against the much-feared federal agency.
Tom Fitton, the group’s president, later called for President Trump to reopen a criminal investigation.