FACT SHEET: Lois Lerner and the Oversight Committee Investigation of the IRS Targeting Scandal
• Two year investigation – The Committee’s investigation began in February 2012, after concerns about disparate treatment and inappropriate scrutiny of applicants for tax exempt status by the IRS were brought to the Committee’s attention. The underlying concerns were IRS efforts to deny Americans their right to free political speech because of their beliefs. Since May 2013, the Oversight Committee has frequently worked jointly with the House Committee on Ways and Means, which is also investigating the targeting.
• Lois Lerner ran IRS division where wrongdoing occurred – Lois Lerner is the former Director of Tax-Exempt Organizations (EO) at the IRS. Lerner also publicly broke the news of the targeting by answering a planted question in an otherwise innocuous tax panel on May 10, 2013, prior to the initial TIGTA report.
• Continued hearing – Tomorrow’s proceeding (Wednesday, March 5) is not a new hearing. It is the continuation of a proceeding that began May 22nd and originally had four witnesses – Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, TIGTA Russell George, and Lerner. All witnesses, except Lerner, answered questions posed by the Committee and have not been asked to return tomorrow. Because this is a continuation of a hearing and not a new hearing the start may seem different and will proceed to questioning more quickly than a typical hearing.
• Committee voted that Lerner waived her right not to testify – On June 28, 2013, the Committee voted that Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment privilege by making a voluntary opening statement asserting her innocence at a May 22nd hearing, before then refusing to answer questions. The March 5th hearing is a resumption of the May 22nd hearing. If Lerner refuses to answer questions tomorrow, she could be found in contempt of Congress.
• Lerner’s attorney changes his story – Lerner’s attorney originally stated that Lerner would only testify in exchange for immunity. However, he then approached the Committee with different scenarios under which his client would testify. The attorney and Committee staff came to the understanding that Lerner would testify, without immunity, but would request a one week delay for the March 5th hearing. You can read the emails between him and Committee staff here.
• The IRS has still not provided critical e-mails – The IRS and Treasury still have not fully cooperated with an August 2013 subpoena for all of Lerner’s communications from 2009-2013, as well as communications for several other IRS officials. The Committee is still missing an undetermined number of emails detailing Lerner’s activates during that timeframe. The Treasury Department has also failed to provide all subpoenaed documents.
• Political pressure preceded targeting – Despite the continued obstruction from the IRS and Treasury, the Committee determined that targeting occurred amid increased political pressure from President Obama and Democrats to take action toward 501(c)(4) groups in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. The ruling was a constant topic of debate on the 2010 campaign trail, and the president denounced it in his 2010 State of the Union Address. An interim update on the Committee’s investigation documented how the IRS was affected by the heightened political pressure to act.
• Conservatives were, Progressives weren’t – Investigations by TIGTA and the Oversight Committee found clear evidence that Tea Party and other conservative organizations were targeted for enhanced scrutiny because their organization’s names reflected their conservative beliefs. Neither TIGTA nor any other investigation has found evidence that a liberal or progressive group was targeted for enhanced scrutiny because its name reflected liberal or progressive beliefs.
• No new “Tea Party” groups approved – A May 2013 review of the IRS tax-exempt applications found that not a single group identifying itself as “Tea Party” was approved by the IRS after February 2010, when the new targeting criteria were instated, while dozens of “progressive” groups were approved.