Pressure from the Left Led the IRS and DOJ to Restrict Freedom of Speech

June 16, 2014

Key Findings:

  • The President’s political rhetoric in opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and conservative nonprofits engaged in political speech led to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of tax-exempt applicants.
  • Senior White House officials, Democratic Members of Congress, and other left-wing political figures and commentators echoed the President’s rhetoric.  The Democrat-led Congress convened hearings to examine Citizens United and considered legislation to require disclosure of contributors to nonprofits engaged in political speech.  The White House and left-leaning commentators supported these measures.
  • Democratic Members of Congress, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and liberal advocacy organizations urged the IRS to investigate conservative nonprofits engaged in political speech.
  • The IRS internalized the political pressure urging the tax agency to take action on nonprofit political speech.  In response to a news article about the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s complaint against Americans for Prosperity, Lois Lerner wrote to her boss: “We won’t be able to stay out of this – we need a plan!”  Lerner later initiated a project to examine 501(c)(4) political speech in response to an article in a tax-law journal.
  • As Democratic Members of Congress urged the IRS to investigate a conservative group, Crossroads GPS, Lerner asked a subordinate to look at the group.  Echoing themes from the President’s rhetorical campaign and acknowledging the media attention on nonprofit political speech, Lerner wrote: “The organization at issue is Crossroads GPS, which is on the top of the list of c4 spenders in the last two elections.  It is in the news regularly as an organization that is not really a c4, rather it is only doing political activity – taking in money from large contributors who wish to remain anonymous and funneling it into tight electoral races.”
  • The Justice Department arranged a meeting with Lerner on October 8, 2010, after Jack Smith, Chief of the Department’s Public Integrity Section, read an article in the New York Times about the influence of nonprofits in the midterm election.  The IRS sent 21 disks containing 1.1 million pages of nonprofit tax-return information – including confidential taxpayer information – to the FBI in advance of this meeting.  The Justice Department and the FBI have continued a “dialogue” about potential criminal investigations of nonprofits engaged in political speech.
  • The IRS enjoyed a close and mutually beneficial relationship with congressional Democrats.  The IRS received tips from Democratic sources about upcoming actions concerning nonprofit political speech, and the IRS even assisted Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) in preparing letters to the agency criticizing nonprofit political speech.

Read the report here, and the appendix here.

Last week, the Oversight Committee wrote letters to the DOJ and IRS about the transmittal of a database of tax exempt organizations sent to FBI weeks before 2010 midterm elections.

In April, the Committee released the report, Debunking the Myth that the IRS Targeted Progressives: How the IRS and Congressional Democrats Misled America about Disparate Treatment, available here.