On Thursday, October 26, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Department of Justice had reached a settlement in two cases brought by conservative groups who alleged that they were wrongly targeted by the IRS. Both cases stemmed from a 2013 admission by the IRS that they applied inappropriate scrutiny to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. According to Attorney General Sessions, groups with names involving ‘Tea Party’ or ‘Patriots,’ as well as those concerned with government spending or taxation, were subject to “inappropriate criteria to screen applications for 501(c) status.”
Hundreds of applications on behalf of conservative groups were transferred to a specific group of IRS agents who subjected the applications to “additional levels of review, [and] questioning and delay.” In many cases, the agency made even more demands and requested “highly sensitive information from applicants,” including donor information. This information is not required to obtain tax-exempt status.
The IRS conducted an internal audit, which they finished in 2013. This audit concluded that conservatives were inappropriately targeted due to poor management, not partisan politics. Due to the conclusions of the audit, President Obama fired IRS Commissioner Steven Miller.
Despite the result of the 2013 audit, Sessions made it clear in his announcement of the settlement that “any entitlement to tax exemption should be based on the activities of the organization and whether they fulfill requirements of the law, not the policy positions adopted by members or the name chosen to reflect those views.”
In his statement on Thursday, Sessions cited a quote by the late Chief Justice John Marshall, “that the power to tax involves the power to destroy … [is] not to be denied.” Acknowledging that the actions of the IRS were an attempt to “destroy” conservative groups, Sessions further cited the First Amendment’s prevention of “the federal government from treating groups differently based solely on their viewpoint or ideology.”
In total, both suits settled by the DOJ included 469 plaintiffs or members. One of the cases, Linchpins of Liberty v. United States included 41 separate plaintiffs. The other case, NorCal Tea Party Patriots v. Internal Revenue Service, was a class-action lawsuit brought by 428 members.
While the settlement, which is still subject to court approval, will not provide any monetary compensation to the targeted groups, the IRS would be required to acknowledge its actions were wrong in an apology to the conservative groups. Sessions stated that “[t]here is no excuse for this conduct” by the IRS, and the DOJ “hopes that [the] settlement makes clear that this abuse of power will not be tolerated.”
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