Federal Politics

Published — May 14, 2013 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

IRS nonprofit division overloaded, understaffed

2012 banner year for nonprofit applications

Introduction

Amid withering accusations the Internal Revenue Service targeted tea party and other conservative groups with enhanced scrutiny, the agency faces another problem: it’s drowning in paperwork.

The IRS’ Exempt Organizations Division, which finds itself at the scandal’s epicenter, processed significantly more tax exemption applications in fiscal year 2012 by so-called 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations — 2,774 — than it has since at least the late 1990s, according to an analysis of IRS records by the Center for Public Integrity.

Compare that to 1,777 applications in 2011 and 1,741 in 2010, federal records show. Not since 2002, when officials processed 2,402 applications, have so many been received.

Meanwhile, Exempt Organizations Division staffing slid from 910 employees during fiscal year 2009 to 876 during fiscal year 2012, agency personnel documents indicate.

In 2010, IRS officials projected exempt division staffing at 942 employees. But IRS officials cut the number to 900 after the agency began slashing its budget in response to fiscal woes affecting most corners of the federal government.

The agency said this weekend that a heavy workload prompted bureaucrats to “centralize” the “influx of advocacy applications” and, in the name of efficiency, scrutinize groups that contained more common phrases such as “tea party” in them.

“That was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, insensitive and inappropriate — that’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lois Lerner, IRS exempt organizations director, said Friday. “We don’t select for review because they have a particular name.”

Lerner, who denied the targeting was politically motivated, added that about 75 groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” received extra scrutiny but none had its tax-exempt status revoked.

The IRS could not be reached for comment Monday.

(Also read: IRS employees back Obama, Democrats)

For Washington, D.C.,-based attorney Dan Backer, who represents two tea party-affiliated organizations, blaming such actions on staffing cuts and increased workload is a “lame excuse” that the IRS should stop using.

“They could have hired new employees, they could have reallocated employees, they could have done a lot of things, the not doing of which doesn’t suddenly make it OK for them to engage in viewpoint discrimination,” said Backer, who said he is considering suing the IRS. “At worst, their staffing woes maybe justifies a growing backlog, not discriminating against those whose viewpoints they disagree with.”

IRS records show that applications of the most common nonprofit organizations — 501(c)(3) educational nonprofits, private foundations, charities and the like — have dropped this decade after reaching a high of more than 85,000 in fiscal 2007. Generally, this type of nonprofit entity must remain apolitical.

As for 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, such as the tea party groups in question, they may engage in politics so long as it isn’t their primary purpose.

During the 2012 election cycle, however, numerous 501(c)(4) organizations — most of them conservative, a few left-leaning and all endowed with new spending powers thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision — together spent tens of millions of dollars overtly advocating for or against political candidates.

And unlike super PACs, which may also raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, they’re not required to reveal their donors

Democrats primarily cried foul, accusing groups such as the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS and Koch brothers-supported Americans for Prosperity of violating their tax-exempt status.

But the IRS has taken no definitive action against these or other nonprofit groups, and several campaign finance reform advocates have opined that this latest incident will further stymie their effort to convince the IRS to crack down on nonprofit groups they consider overridingly political.

As for tea party-named nonprofit groups, for all the attention now on them, they generally played bit roles during the 2012 election.

Of the more than 40 organizations that identified themselves as tea party-related in IRS documents, just one — the National Tea Party Group of California — reported assets of more than $100,000 in its most recent publicly available financial filing.

For now, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called on the Obama administration to investigate the matter, and Obama himself described the IRS’ conduct as “outrageous.”

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration is expected to release a full report on the matter later this week, and officials in the House and Senate are promising hearings.

Karen Gries, an appointee to the IRS Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities, says she expects her committee will discuss the matter when it meets later this year.

In the meantime, Gries praised the overall performance of Lerner, the exempt organizations director, while expressing concern about her department’s ability to do its job.

“They are asked to do more with less resources,” said Gries, a principal at with accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen LLP. “The EO group operates very lean.”

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

jan v
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jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.