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IRS spent $50m on conferences for employees

Anaheim session in 2010 draws special criticism

Representative Darrell Issa released evidence that he said suggested targeting of the Tea Party had roots in Washington.

EPA/File

Representative Darrell Issa released evidence that he said suggested targeting of the Tea Party had roots in Washington.

WASHINGTON — A government watchdog has found that the Internal Revenue Service spent about $50 million to hold at least 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012, a House committee said Sunday.

The chairman of that committee, Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, also released excerpts of congressional investigators’ interviews with employees of the IRS office in Cincinnati. Issa said the interviews indicated the employees were directed by Washington to subject Tea Party and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to tough scrutiny.

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The excerpts provided no direct evidence that Washington had ordered that screening. The top Democrat on that panel, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said none of the employees interviewed have so far identified any IRS officials in Washington as ordering that targeting.

The conference spending included $4 million for an August 2010 gathering in Anaheim, Calif., for which the agency did not negotiate lower room rates, even though that is standard government practice, according to a statement by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Instead, some of the 2,600 attendees received benefits, including baseball tickets and stays in presidential suites that normally cost $1,500 to $3,500 per night. In addition, 15 outside speakers were paid a total of $135,000 in fees, with one paid $17,000 to talk about ‘‘leadership through art,’’ the House committee said.

The report by the Treasury Department’s inspector general, set to be released Tuesday, comes as the IRS already is facing bipartisan criticism after agency officials disclosed they had targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups.

Agency officials and the Obama administration have said that treatment was inappropriate, but the political tempest has put the White House on the defensive.

Three congressional committees are investigating, a Justice Department criminal investigation is underway, President Obama has replaced the IRS’s acting commissioner, and two other top officials have stepped aside.

The Treasury Department released a statement Sunday saying the administration ‘‘has already taken aggressive and dramatic action to reduce conference spending.’’

IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge said Sunday that spending on large agency conferences with 50 or more participants fell from $37.6 million in the 2010 budget year to $4.9 million in 2012. The government’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1 the previous calendar year.

On Friday, the new acting commissioner, Danny Werfel, released a statement on the forthcoming report criticizing the Anaheim meeting.

‘‘This conference is an unfortunate vestige from a prior era,’’ Werfel said. ‘‘While there were legitimate reasons for holding the meeting, many of the expenses associated with it were inappropriate and should not have occurred.’’

Issa’s committee also released excerpts from interviews congressional investigators conducted last week with two IRS employees from the agency’s Cincinnati office. The excerpts omitted the names of those interviewed and provided no specifics about individuals in Washington who may have been involved.

One of the IRS employees said in an excerpt that they were told by a supervisor that the need to collect the reports came from Washington, and said that in early 2010 the Cincinnati office had sent copies of seven of the cases to Washington.

The other said ‘‘all my direction’’ came from an official that the transcript said was in Washington.

One of the workers also expressed skepticism that the Cincinnati office originated the screening without direction from Washington, according to the excerpts.

Appearing Sunday on CNN’s ‘‘State of the Union,’’ Issa said this conflicted with White House comments that have referred to misconduct by IRS workers in Cincinnati. Without naming White House spokesman Jay Carney, Issa said the administration’s ‘‘paid liar, their spokesperson’’ is ‘‘still making up things about what happens in calling this local rogue.’’

He added, ‘‘This is a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters and we’re getting to proving it.’’

In briefings with reporters, Carney has not referred to the Cincinnati IRS office as ‘‘rogue.’’

‘‘He’s good at throwing out outlandish charges but it’s unclear what he’s saying he lied about,’’ White House spokesman Eric Schultz said of Issa’s remark.

Cummings said Issa’s comments conflicted with a Treasury inspector general’s report that provided no evidence that the Cincinnati office received orders on targeting from anyone else.

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