After a five-hour debate, the House Oversight Committee voted along party lines, 21-12, to hold former IRS Director of Tax Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress. The charges come after Lerner failed to answer questions about the IRS targeting of conservative groups and after her failure to cooperate with the Committee investigation into the targeting.
Democrats repeatedly defended the Lerner’s Constitutional rights, arguing she did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights even though she made a statement before declaring she would not answer questions last year and again in early 2014. Republicans argued Lerner did in fact waive her Fifth Amendment rights due to making a statement. They also defended the rights of taxpayers who were targeted by her organization to hold her accountable for her actions.
The contempt charge will now go to the full House for a vote. A date for when that vote will occur has not been set. If the House votes to hold her in contempt, the charge will then go to the court system. Yesterday the House Ways and Means Committee referred Lerner to the Department of Justice for criminal charges.
The decision to hold Lois Lerner in contempt comes 11 months to the day since she revealed this unlawful scheme with a question she planted at an ABA meeting,” ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a statement.
“From the very beginning, she has ignored a Congressional subpoena – refused to answer questions on two occasions by pleading the Fifth Amendment. We believe – as many others do – that she waived her constitutional right to remain silent because she invoked it after she publicly proclaimed her innocence. Lerner has misled the American people and Congress from the very start. Contempt is justified and the appropriate sanction in this case.”
In response to a question about the IRS’s handling of Tea Party exemption applications, asked at the May 10 meeting of the Exempt Organizations Committee of the Tax Section of the American Bar Association, Lois Lerner, Director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations office, made the following response:
“We get about 60,000 applications for tax exemption every year, most of them are 501(c)(3) organizations. But between 2010 and 2012 we started seeing a very big uptick in the number of 501(c)(4) applications we were receiving and many of these organizations applying more than doubled, about 1,500 in 2010 and over 3,400 in 2012. So we saw a big increase in these kinds of applications, many of which indicated that they were going to be involved in advocacy work.
So our line people in Cincinnati who handled the applications did what we call ‘centralization’ of these cases. They centralized work on these in one particular group. They do that for efficiency and consistency — something we do whenever we see an uptick in a new kind of application or something we haven’t seen before. Folks might remember from back a few years ago we had credit counseling organizations and we centralized those cases. We had mortgage foreclosure cases and we centralized those cases. We do it for consistency. So they went ahead and did that. How they do centralization is they have a list in their office that they give out to folks who are screening cases that says if it is one of these kind of cases and it can’t be screened it needs to go to group X. So centralization was perfectly fine.
However, in these cases, the way they did the centralization was not so fine. Instead of referring to the cases as advocacy cases, they actually used case names on this list. They used names like Tea Party or Patriots and they selected cases simply because the applications had those names in the title. That was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, insensitive, and inappropriate — that’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review. We don’t select for review because they have a particular name.
The other thing that happened was they also, in some cases, cases sat around for a while. They also sent some letters out that were far too broad, asking questions of these organizations that weren’t really necessary for the type of application. In some cases you probably read that they asked for contributor names. That’s not appropriate, not usual, there are some very limited times when we might need that but in most of these cases where they were asked they didn’t do it correctly and they didn’t do it with a higher level of review. As I said, some of them sat around for too long.
What have we done to take care of this? Oh, let me back up. They didn’t do this because of any political bias. They did it because they were working together. This was a streamlined way for them to refer to the cases. They didn’t have the appropriate level of sensitivity about how this might appear to others and it was just wrong. So when we found out about it we did a couple of things. First, we said that list that goes around for centralizing cases any changes on that list have to be reviewed and approved at the Director of Rulings & Agreements level so line staff can no longer change or add to that list without calling us to look at it.
We also went back and looked at questions that had been sent out to folks because some of them were extensive and where the questions weren’t necessary we gave the organizations flexibility as to which questions they needed to answer and gave them more time to answer them. In some cases, we told them to just ignore the letter we already sent and sent a new list of questions. In some cases we said we don’t need those questions answered. We can deal with your application without responses to those questions. We also sorted the cases to try and figure out which cases needed a further look and which cases could be handled through almost a screening process. We might need a little bit more information.
The problem in the (c)(4) area is that the kind of activity the organizations were doing is okay for (c)(4)s but it can’t be their primary activity. So that weighing and balancing is a little different than when we have a (c)(3) that says you can’t do any political activity. That’s a pretty easy question. So I guess my bottom line here is that we at the IRS should apologize for that, it was not intentional, and as soon as we found out what was going on, we took steps to make it better and I don’t expect that to reoccur.
Lerner now joins Attorney General Eric Holder, who was held in contempt of Congress in June 2012.
The fact that the words “Tea Party” and “Patriot” acted as a trigger for the IRS (somewhat like the bell for Pavlov’s dogs?), indicates that politics were involved. This is the same IRS that Obama is going to use to hunt down scofflaws who refuse to sign up for his Obamacare.
The Tea Parties organized in 2009 after they saw the success of their rallies. They began filing immediately – the Tea Party to which I belonged certainly did. That Tea Party’s president was a lawyer who knew the Ps and Qs of non-profit, tax-exempt organizations.
Despite Lois Lerner’s false assertions, non-profit organizations do not necessarily have to “benefit” the community in a financial sense or provide “charity” work. Our band is (or was) a (c) (3). We’re a band. In fact, we’re a for-hire marching and concert band. The organization gets paid to play. It’s permitted to accept remuneration, although there is a ceiling on the remuneration, above which it would just be taxed on the money.
That’s all. If we made more money, our band members wouldn’t have to trade in their uniforms for orange jumpsuits – unless our treasurer didn’t pay the taxes, of course. We don’t pay our individual members; that’s the one requirement, although we would be permitted to pay a band director for his or her work. As long as the money goes have the benefit of the organization. (The band officers can’t simply pocket the money.)
The Tea Parties who opted to become (c)(4)s knew the rules about supporting candidates. Not only were they aware of it, but they didn’t want to finance candidates because they didn’t want to wind up backing the wrong (RINO) GOP candidates. The Republicans certainly tried to boss our Tea Party around, but we showed them the door.
Now Lois Lerner has to eat her words. The Committee has found grounds to hold her in contempt of Congress. What will the House of Representatives do? The RINOs in the House dislike the Tea Parties intensely. They wanted us silenced as much, maybe even more than, Nobama and the Democrats. Will they hold her in contempt on the grounds of lying to the House Investigating Committee and impeding the rights of the Tea Parties to assemble peacefully and advocate for Conservative issues?
Or will the RINOs roll over, as they often do, and award her the Congressional Medal of Honor, instead?