Read as much as you want on BostonGlobe.com, anywhere and anytime, for just 99¢.

IRS left Congress in dark on tax checks

Did not detail federal targeting of Tea Party outfits

President Obama on Monday called the targeting of conservative groups “outrageous.’’

Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Obama on Monday called the targeting of conservative groups “outrageous.’’

WASHINGTON — Steven T. Miller, the acting Internal Revenue Service commissioner, failed to tell Congress that Tea Party groups were being inappropriately targeted, even after he had been briefed on the matter.

The IRS said Monday that Miller was first informed on May 3, 2012, that applications for tax-exempt status by Tea Party groups were inappropriately singled out for extra, sometimes burdensome scrutiny.

Continue reading below

On June 15, 2012, Miller wrote a member of Congress to explain the process of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status without mentioning the controversy.

Representative Charles Boustany, a Louisiana Republican, had raised concerns with the IRS about complaints that Tea Party groups were being harassed. Boustany specifically mentioned Tea Party groups in his inquiry.

But Miller gave a generic response. He said that when the IRS saw an increase in applications from groups that were involved in political activity, the agency ‘‘took steps to coordinate the handling of the case to ensure consistency.’’

Miller did not mention that in 2011, those materials included a list of words to watch for, such as ‘‘Tea Party’’ and ‘‘patriot.’’ He also did not disclose that in January 2012, the criteria for additional screening was updated to include references to the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

‘‘They repeatedly failed to disclose and be truthful about what they were doing,’’ said Representative Dave Camp, the Michigan Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.

Camp’s committee is holding a hearing on the issue Friday and Miller is scheduled to testify.

On Monday, President Obama said he first learned about the issue from news reports on Friday. He denounced the targeting of conservative political groups as “outrageous’’ and acknowledged that people are properly concerned about the practice.

The president said those responsible must be held fully accountable. ‘‘I've got no patience with it,’’ he added. ‘‘I will not tolerate it and we will find out exactly what happened.’’

The IRS apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was ‘‘inappropriate’’ targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see whether they were violating their tax-exempt status. In some cases, the IRS acknowledged, agents inappropriately asked for lists of donors.

The agency blamed low-level employees in a Cincinnati office, saying no high-level officials were aware.

But a draft of an inspector general’s report obtained by the Associated Press says senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting Tea Party groups as early as 2011. The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the final report this week after a yearlong investigation.

The Senate Finance Committee said Monday it will join a list of congressional committees investigating the matter.

‘‘We need to know who knew what and exactly what mistakes were made,’’ said Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who leads the finance committee. ‘‘The American people have questions for the IRS and I intend to get answers.’’

When members of Congress repeatedly raised concerns with the IRS about complaints that Tea Party groups were being harassed last year, a deputy IRS commissioner took the lead in assuring lawmakers the additional scrutiny was a legitimate part of the screening process.

That deputy commissioner was Miller, who is now the acting head of the agency.

In several letters to members of Congress, Miller went into painstaking detail about how applications for tax-exempt status were screened. But he never mentioned that conservative groups were being targeted.

Only one of Miller’s letters obtained by the AP came after his May 2012 briefing. However, many people working under him knew as early as June 2011 that Tea Party groups were being targeted, according to the upcoming report by the agency’s inspector general.

In one 10-page response to Congress in April 2012, Miller said a revenue agent uses ‘‘sound reasoning based on tax law training’’ to determine which applications for tax-exempt status need additional scrutiny.

Camp and other members of the Ways and Means Committee sent at least four inquiries to the IRS, starting in June 2011. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent three inquiries. And Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House oversight committee, sent at least one.

None of the responses they received from the IRS acknowledged that conservative groups had ever been targeted.

‘‘They really failed to disclose to us what they were up to, even though we obviously had a concern that they were targeting taxpayers for their political beliefs,’’ Camp said. ‘‘Given all of that attention, they had an obligation and duty to come forward with this information.’’

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week